Saturday, August 19, 2017
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TOKYO – Toyota kept its title as the world’s biggest automaker on Wednesday as it announced global sales of 10.15 million vehicles last year, outpacing scandal-hit Volkswagen and US rival General Motors.

Struggling to move past a pollution-cheating scandal, Volkswagen earlier said it logged sales of 9.93 million vehicles worldwide in 2015, while Chevrolet and Cadillac maker GM moved 9.8 million.

In the first half of the year, Volkswagen was in pole position, outpacing Toyota as the German automaker rode momentum in emerging economies.

But then it posted its first drop in annual sales in more than a decade, as it was hammered by a massive pollution cheating scandal.

Volkswagen sank into its biggest crisis over stunning revelations in September that it had fitted 11 million of its vehicles with devices designed to dodge pollution tests.

Toyota broke GM’s decades-long reign as the world’s top automaker in 2008 but lost it three years later as Japan’s earthquake-tsunami disaster dented production and disrupted the supply chains of the country’s automakers.

However, in 2012 it once again overtook its Detroit rival and has remained on top since.

WASHINGTON – NASA split a multi-billion-dollar contract to resupply the International Space Station between three US firms: SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada — a newcomer with reusable spacecraft.

President Barack Obama pledged in 2010 that the US space agency would increasingly work with private companies, placing them in competition in order “to make getting to space easier and more affordable.”

“Today’s announcement is a big deal that will move the president’s vision further into the future,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

“NASA has awarded three cargo contracts to ensure the critical science, research and technology demonstrations that are informing the agency’s journey to Mars are delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024,” the statement said.

Each firm is contracted to launch at least six flights to the ISS between 2019 and 2024, NASA said.

The resupply contracts, worth a total of around $14 billion, also include funding ISS integration, flight support equipment, special tasks and studies, NASA said.

“This will ensure that we can keep the ISS fully stocked for crew to fully utilize the ISS as a laboratory,” said the space station program manager at NASA, Kirk Shireman.

SpaceX and Orbital have been supplying the ISS since 2010 as part of a public-private partnership with NASA.

They will now be joined by the lesser-known newcomer Sierra Nevada, which is entering its first commercial partnership with the space agency.

The Nevada-based company said it was “humbled” to be one of the trio of firms chosen by NASA.

“SNC is honored to be selected by NASA for this critical US program,” said Eren Ozmen, president of Sierra Nevada.

The company’s space-shuttle-like vehicle, called the Dream Chaser, was last year closed out of the competition to carry astronauts to the ISS, losing out to Boeing and SpaceX.

Sierra Nevada’s spacecraft is designed to launch vertically on a rocket and come back down to land horizontally on a runway, making it reusable — something SpaceX is also working to achieve in order to bring down the cost of rocket launches.

“In such a major competition, we are truly humbled by the show of confidence in SNC and look forward to successfully demonstrating the extensive capabilities of the Dream Chaser spacecraft to the world,” Ozmen said, calling participation in the program “an American Dream come true.”

Orbital, one of the US space agency’s established partners, said it was also delighted to be renewing its relationship with the US space program.

“We are grateful for NASA’s continued confidence in our ability to provide reliable and affordable commercial cargo transportation services to the International Space Station,” said David Thompson, Orbital ATK’s president and CEO.

“With our flexible cargo delivery system now up and running, our team is well prepared to deliver essential supplies to the International Space Station for years to come.”

SpaceX and Sierra Nevada will primarily be launching from Cap Canaveral in Florida, while Orbital ATK will mostly use the Wallops Island space center in Virginia, on the US east coast.

PALMA (SPAIN) – Spain’s Princess Cristina and her husband go on trial Monday under intense global media scrutiny in a landmark corruption case that has outraged the country and sullied the monarchy’s reputation.

Cristina, a 50-year-old mother-of-four with a master’s degree from New York University, will be the first Spanish royal to face criminal charges in court since the monarchy was reinstated following the 1975 death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

The trial of the princess and the 17 other accused, including her husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, will get underway at 9:15 am (0815 GMT) at a court in Palma on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, where the Spanish royals have a holiday home.

Hundreds of journalists from around the world have flocked to cover the arrival of the princess for the start of the legal proceedings and a crowd of protesters is expected to fill the streets outside the courthouse.

The trial comes as Spain seethes over repeated corruption scandals that have exposed politicians, trade unions, bankers and footballers, eroding Spaniards’ faith in their institutions and elites after a major economic crisis and a government austerity drive.

– Harry Potter books –

The case is centred on the shady business deals of the Noos Institute, a charitable organisation based in Palma which Urdangarin, 47, chaired from 2004 to 2006.

He and his former business partner Diego Torres are suspected of embezzling 6.2 million euros ($6.7 million) in public funds paid by two regional governments to the organisation to stage sporting and other types of events.

Urdangarin is accused of using his royal connections to secure inflated contracts without competing bids and siphoning off some of the money into Aizoon, a firm he jointly ran with his wife Cristina to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Urdangarin and Cristina are suspected of using Aizoon for personal expenses including work on the couple’s mansion in Barcelona, trips to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, dance lessons and even Harry Potter books, which reduced the firm’s taxable profits, according to court filings.

Cristina has been charged with tax evasion while her husband is accused of the more serious crimes of embezzlement, influence peddling, document falsification, money laundering and tax fraud.

If convicted Cristina — who has denied wrongdoing — faces a jail term of up to eight years. Urdangarin faces more than 19 years in prison.

During a preliminary hearing in February 2014 she told the court that she loved her husband and trusted him to manage their finances. She repeatedly answered “I don’t know” to questions.

– New royal rules –

The corruption scandal and health woes prompted Cristina’s father Juan Carlos — who helped smooth Spain’s transition to democracy in the 1970s after the Franco dictatorship — to abdicate in 2014 in favour of his son Felipe to try to revive the scandal-hit monarchy.

King Felipe VI swiftly adopted new rules banning members of the royal family from working for private firms and ordered palace accounts to be subject to an external audit.

Last year he stripped Cristina and her husband of their titles as Duke and Duchess of Palma, which Juan Carlos had given the couple when they had their glitzy wedding in 1997.

Torres, Urdangarin’s former business partner, has insisted that Juan Carlos and his advisers monitored the Noos Institute’s dealings closely and offered advice.

The royal palace supervised “what we did, they would say ‘that’s very good, that seems very well done, go ahead’, and they would guide us,” Torres said during an interview that aired on television channel La Sexta on Sunday night.

SAN FRANCISCO – Bridgestone raised its bid for US auto service chain Pep Boys, a merger that would catapult it to the ranks of top players in the US car maintenance business.

Bridgestone, already the world’s largest tire maker, increased its offer for the US company to $17.00 per share, from its last offer of $15.00.

The boosted bid brings the total value of the deal to about $947 million, according to a press release from the two companies.

Through the merger, Bridgestone would add Pep Boys’ 800 US locations, and car maintenance services, to its own 2,200 US outlets.

“In addition to our long and successful histories in this industry, Pep Boys and Bridgestone share a common vision for the future –- to continue to build upon this 100-year foundation to form an even stronger company, one that is renowned for its commitment to being the most trusted provider of automotive service in every neighborhood it serves,” said Stu Crum, president of Bridgestone Retail Operations.

Bridgestone’s sweetened bid leaves open the possibility of a counter offer from activist investor Carl Icahn, who reportedly wants to combine the retail sales side of Pep Boys with his Auto Plus car parts network of 2,300 outlets.

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