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New highs for April imports and exports

A growth in dairy, wood and wine exports led to a trade surplus of $578 million in April 2017, Stats NZ said today. The trade deficit fell $200 million to $3.5 billion in April after peaking earlier this year.

“In April we had the largest monthly trade surplus since 2015,” international trade statistics senior manager Daria Kwon said. “This trimmed back the annual deficit, which reached an eight-year high in February.”

Both imports and exports reached new highs for an April month, despite coinciding with Easter this year.

Imports were up 4.9 per cent to $4.2 billion. Imports of passenger motor cars increased 4.4 per cent to $440 million, and petrol and avgas imports for April rose 40 per cent year-on-year to $67 million.

Vehicles, parts and accessories imports for 12 months ending April 2017 were up 14 per cent compared to the previous year, hitting $8.13 billion. Mechanical machinery and equipment was up 1.3 per cent to $7.1 billion for the year. Imports for petroleum and products fell three percent to $4.7 billion.

Month-to-month, exports rose 9.8 per cent to $4.8 billion compared to April 2016, with Milk powder, butter, and cheese a standout, up 35 per cent to $289 million. Logs, wood and wood articles also rose, up 18 per cent to $61 million.

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First ride-sharing EV arrives in Auckland

Matthew Olde and Ben Carter with Cityhop’s new Nissan Leaf

Car-sharing platform Cityhop has launched the first rent-by-the-hour EV in Auckland in partnership with Mercury.

“It’s easy to see that our city has too many cars. We’re crawling along traffic-choked roads every day,” says Ben Carter, development manager of Cityhop.

“People can now have access to a car when they need it, meaning they drive less, save money and reduce congestion. International research has found that every car share vehicle takes 9-13 privately owned cars off the road,” he added.

Carter said it was an exciting opportunity for the 2500 drivers already registered with the Cityhop programme. The Nissan Leaf is located on the second floor of the Tournament car park on the corner of Khyber Pass and York Street in Newmarket.

Mercury has had EVs in its fleet since 2013, and plans to transition at least 30 per cent of company vehicles to plug-in EVs by 2019.

“We’ve added this EV to Cityhop’s fleet to share the experience and allow more drivers to find out for themselves how EVs live up to their reputation,” said Mercury executive Matthew Olde.

“We are also excited for our Newmarket-based Mercury teams to have an opportunity to try car-sharing, as we learn about how car sharing might address some of Auckland’s transport challenges.”

“With around 80 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity supplied from renewable energy sources it’s important that we get out of the slow lane and into the fast lane of e-mobility. We are partnering with Cityhop to learn as much as we can about how, why and when people and businesses turn to different, electrified ways of getting around so that we can help promote change that makes Auckland and New Zealand better for all of us,” Olde said.

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New V12 BMW to hit NZ market

The first model in the new M Performance 7 Series line-up will arrive in New Zealand, BMW have said. The M760Li xDrive is the highest-powered BMW production vehicle and is due to hit domestic dealers in June.

“With its incredible performance figures, this also positions it as the most powerful and currently fastest accelerating BMW production car of all time,” said BMW Group New Zealand managing director, Florian Renndorfer.

A 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 engine powers the M760Li, which delivers 448kW of power and 800Nm of torque. 0-100km/h takes just 3.7 seconds. BMW have improved fuel efficiency with Double-VANOS variable camshaft control system and high-precision fuel injection with start-stop technology, and consumption is rated at 12.8l/100km.

The new M Performance model also contains BMW’s rear-based xDrive all-wheel drive system, which assists the V12’s handling by limiting oversteer and understeer.

The M760Li also comes standard with driving experience control, which can activate an adaptive mode that anticipates required driving style to suit conditions and adapts the vehicle control systems to match.

The new system also uses driving style analysis and a camera to adjust suspension, drive, steering, gearbox and throttle settings to suit conditions. An executive drive pro function, which uses air suspension, dynamic damper control and active steering systems, helps negotiate corners at speed.

A ‘Model V12 Excellence’ package, which contains a range of exterior paint finishes and wooden features in the cabin, is also available at no extra cost.

The BMW M760Li xDrive variant is priced from $347,000 plus on-road costs.

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Mercedes builds new EV battery factory

Angela Merkel attended the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone at the new factory

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG has broken ground on its $690 million electric battery plant in Kamenz, Saxony, at a ceremony attended by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The automotive industry is facing a fundamental transformation and we see ourselves as the driving force behind this change,” said Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche.

“The battery factory in Kamenz is an important component in the implementation of our electric offensive. By 2022, we will have more than ten purely electric passenger cars in series. We also continue to drive forward the hybridization of our fleet.”

Daimler has invested an overall $1.6 billion in global battery production so far, and have delivered over 80,000 batteries to consumers. The new battery factory, the second built by the company, will begin operation next year.

 “With the second battery plant in Kamenz, we are giving the initial start for the development of the first premium eBattery factory,” said Mercedes board member Markus Schäfer.

Mercedes have also unveiled more plans for their next-generation electric fleet, which has been promised almost $16 billion of funding. Ten EVS will be launched over the next five years.

The company predicts total vehicle sales for Mercedes-Benz will be between 15 per cent and 25 per cent electric by 2025.

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Toyota most trusted car

Toytota was voted most trusted car brand at the annual Reader’s Digest Most Trusted brand awards, beating Nissan and Mercedes-Benz for the top spot.

Toyota also ranked ninth of all brands surveyed across the country, behind household brands such as Whittaker’s, Air New Zealand, Resene and Edmonds.

In other auto-related categories, BMW took out the top motorcycle brand ahead of Honda and Yamaha, and Hertz was awarded top rental car company, while Avis and Budget were highly commended.

Z was awarded top petrol station, with commendations for BP and Caltex, and Bridgestrone beat rivals Firestone and Goodyear to claim the tyres category title.

AA Insurance also took out the general insurance award for the seventh year in a row.

The Readers Digest survey, in its 18th year, was conducted by Roy Morgan, who polled 1400 New Zealanders for their opinion on brands in over 60 categories.

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Ford’s electric SUV to have 500km range

Ford has announced further details of its first long-range EV, which is set to be released in 2020. The electric crossover vehicle was first announced at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Executive vice president and chief technical officer Raj Nair has confirmed to journalists that the car will have an affordable price. “Our plan is for it to be an affordable vehicle, a mainstream model,” Nair told Business Insider. “To get electrification volumes where we would all like them to be, we have to make sure we make the affordability targets or otherwise they are going to stay as a niche item or a pure luxury item.”

Nair also said the car would have a driving range of approximately 500km. “We think we have a technology path that will get us a 300-plus miles range and an affordable crossover utility that will be fully competitive,” he said.

This puts the future Ford EV ahead of the Chevrolet Bolt, which has a range of 383km, and the Tesla Model 3, which has a 350km range.

A number of car makers have announced upcoming all-electric SUVs. Tesla’s Model Y, a compact SUV, is due for release in late 2019 or 2020. Volkswagen and Volvo also aim to have small electric SUVs on the market at the same time.

But Nair sees the potentially crowded electric SUV market as a positive for the industry. “We always welcome the competition,” he said.

 “There are some aspects of the economics of battery-electric vehicles that are helped by scale. The more penetration we get, all of us are helped by the economies of scale.”

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US car makers skip Tokyo Show

Top American car makers will be absent from the 45th Tokyo Motor Show.

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) released the list of participants overnight, and GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler were all missing from the line-up.

It’s the fifth show in a row GM and Ford won’t be making an appearance, but Fiat Chrysler exhibited Jeep and Fiat models in the previous event.

“We wanted them to join, but regrettably, there was no application from them,” JAMA Chairman Hiroto Saikawa, president of Nissan, told journalists at a news conference.

The total list of participants, including suppliers and related auto companies, has slid to 150, from 160 at the previous event.

JAMA said that 13 foreign car and motorcycle makers will participate in the 45th Tokyo Motor Show later this year, four fewer than the last show.

Some car makers, however, will be putting in repeat appearances. Volvo and Harley-Davidson have committed to return to Tokyo after missing out on the 2013 event, while Swedish truck maker Scania will join the line-up for the first time.

Participation in Tokyo has waned in recent years as the event has been overshadowed by glitzy motor shows in China, such as Auto Shanghai and Auto China, held in Beijing.

The Tokyo Motor Show will run from October 27 to November 5 this year.

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Ford appoints new CEO

International business leader Jim Hackett has been appointed as CEO of Ford Motor Company, replacing the outgoing Mark Fields, who is retiring after 28 years with the car maker.

Together with executive chairman Bill Ford, Hackett has pledged to focus on sharpening operation execution, modernising the Ford business and transforming the company for the future.

 “We’re moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future,” Bill Ford said. “Jim Hackett is the right CEO to lead Ford during this transformative period for the auto industry and the broader mobility space.”

A total of five new high-level appointments have been announced, including three new leaders who will report to Hackett. Jim Farley has been appointed executive vice president and president of global markets and will oversee Ford’s business units worldwide.

Joe Hinrichs has been appointed executive vice president and president of global operations and will manage product development, manufacturing and labour, and Marcy Klevorn has been appointed executive vice president and president of mobility, which includes Ford’s plans to design and build in emerging mobility services, and information technology and data.

Mark Truby has been appointed as vice president of communications and elected as a company officer, and Paul Ballew is the new vice-president and chief data and analytics officer.

A spokesman for Ford New Zealand said despite the major changes in global leadership, it would be “business as normal” in New Zealand here.

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MTF reports half-year operating profit rise

MTF have reported a half-year operating profit after tax of $4.4 million, up 51.7 per cent on the corresponding period last year, on the back of a sales boom in the industry.

The company is in its tenth year of operation, with a network of 261 dealers across New Zealand that sell motor vehicles in conjunction with financial services, and a further 43 franchises that focus solely on financial services.

However, underlying profit after tax, which MTF says “moves the volatility of unrealised fair value movements, providing a more consistent and meaningful measure of company performance after commissions,” was $3.7 million, a 3.4 per cent decrease compared to March 2016.

Sales increased 36 per cent, which the MTF says is due to a buoyant economy, record vehicle sales and the non-recourse lending option developed in partnership with Turners last November.

“The car lending market generally remains very competitive, and it has been very pleasing to achieve growth in market share… from 11.4 per cent to 12.9 per cent,” said MTF in their financial report for the half-year.

The non-recourse offering with Turners, “significantly exceeded expectations,” according to MTF. Sales topped $25 million since the pilot was launched in early December last year.

Technology is set to be a large part of MTF’s future development. The company saw success with the uptake of electronic document and signature capture, which was rolled out last year, with 41 per cent of loans were originated using the new electronic platform. Future initiatives include loan origination via an iPad and smart customer on-boarding tools, with more details expected to be announced in the coming months.  

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Former MoT workers describe axing by Harrison

Two former transport ministry workers have described how they were forced out of the ministry after alerting other staff about Joanne Harrison’s fraudulent behaviour.

The whistleblowers explained to RNZ how they informed senior managers about fake invoices and travel expenses and were then targeted in a restructure led by Harrison.

Harrison was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison in February for stealing $723,000 from the Ministry of Transport.

As well as the embezzled funds, Harrison secured a high-profile job for her husband at another government agency and got another job for a friend, who was on the ministry’s payroll for 10 months without doing any work.

One employee first raised concerns in 2015 after receiving an invoice for Mazarine Associates.

“We couldn’t find anything about them – they had no website, there was no phone number or email address on the invoice,” the former staff member told RNZ.

“I also raised questions about it in a team meeting about this invoice at the time, I said ‘it’s a very unprofessional invoice’ and as it turned out this is one of the ones she used to embezzle a lot of money from the ministry.”

It later emerged that over $500,000 of funds was funnelled to Mazarine and a second consulting form, both of which never existed.

The second employee also shared concerns about the fake invoices and informed then-CEO Martin Matthews about a trip Harrison took to the UK to attend conference, which had been cancelled.

“I’ve got no doubt, in my own mind, but they’ve probably covered themselves – the way they do when they do restructures,” they said.

“When we raised issues sometimes, we were told ‘you’re only here to pay the invoices, and if they’re signed and approved that’s all you have to worry about’.”

The former staff members were then let go during December, the busiest time of year for the ministry’s finance division, and immediately replaced by a temp worker.

Both employees are dissatisfied with the inquiry established by the Ministry of Transport CEO Peter Mersi, and have written to the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes requesting an independent investigation.

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NZ date set for Lexus LC 500 launch

Lexus has announced its New Zealand launch of the LC 500 coupe, with the vehicle to hit domestic dealerships from mid-July.

The new LC 500 contains a 5.0-litre V8 engine, which generates 351kW of power and 540Nm of torque, and is matched to Lexus’ first direct shift 10-speed close ratio automatic transmission. 0-100km/hr takes 4.7 seconds.

The 500h is powered by a 264kW 3.5-litre V6 hybrid engine containing a lithium-ion battery and two electric motors paired with a new multi-stage hybrid transmission. Engineers have combined a CVT gearbox with a conventional four-speed automatic to emulate a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Reaching 0-100km/hr is a fraction slower than the V8 500, at ‘under five seconds’, according to Lexus. An ‘EV-only mode’ has been included, where the driver can switch off the petrol engine at speeds up to 140km/h, although there’s been no confirmation of driving range.

Pricing will begin at $215,000 for the glass-roof model in both the V8 and hybrid powertrain, and $220,000 for the carbon-fibre roof option, which contains four-wheel steering and variable gear-ratio steering.

Ten vehicles have already been pre-ordered in New Zealand. In Japan, buyers face a three-year waiting list due to high demand.

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