Toyota invests in US car-sharing company

October 28, 2016

Leading Japanese car-maker Toyota Motor Corp has invested a reported USD 10 million in the U.S. car-sharing company Getaround, Reuters said on Friday.

A popular carsharing service in Germany

A popular carsharing service in Germany

The deal was done through the company’s investment fund, Mirai Creation Investment Limited Partnership set up in 2015 to invest in startups working on Artificial Intelligence, robotics, and hydrogen power.

The car sharing service, founded in San Francisco, US, was launched to the public in 2011 and has been available in San Francisco, Chicago and other US cities since 2013. It offers drivers the opportunity to rent cars from private owners in return for payment.  Owners earn 60 per cent commission on the rental prices they set. The company says it now has around 200,000 members.

According to Reuters, Toyota’s investment comes as automakers “seek to shore up their presence in new technology sectors amid growing competition from transport start-ups”.

Automakers have been scrambling to partner with tech firms to head off competition from self-driving cars and car sharing services that threaten to eventually trim demand for car ownership,” the report said.

Other companies in the automotive sector have shown interest in similar services in recent years.  General Motors Co set up its own car-sharing service, Maven, in January this year. Around the same time, Volkswagen transferred its own service called Quicar, set up in 2011, to Dutch project Greenwheels in which it has a 60 per cent share.  Audi has recently also announced plans to launch a similar service in 2017.

Source: Reuters

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If dogs could fly: ANA considering letting dogs on planes

August 24, 2016

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Dogs may soon be allowed to accompany their owners on flights with Japan‘s All-Nippon Airways, according to an article in the Japan Times.

This announcement follows a successful trial package tour conducted by ANA in late May of this year.

On that occasion, 87 passengers with between them 44 dogs were flown from Narita Airport to Kushiro in Hokkaido for a two-night stay.

According to the Japan Times, the basic package for two adults and one dog cost around ¥220,000 ($2,195 or €1,940).

What ANA’s trial flight demonstrated is that there is ample demand for services like this. Within just two days of going on sale, the tickets had already sold out.

Airlines usually require pets to travel in the cargo hold for domestic flights. For many pet owners this is a cause for serious concern, as they worry about the temperatures in the cargo hold.

This issue has also been acknowledged by some airlines.

The Japan Times article notes that ANA, for example, will not allow short-nosed dogs like bulldogs and chins to travel in the cargo area during the hot summer months, as these dogs are particularly prone to heat stroke and respiratory issues. 

On the ANA trial flight, however, dogs travelled in the cabin together with human passengers, albeit in cages strapped to the window seats.

There was also a veterinarian on hand in case any issues arose.

This is not the first time ANA has allowed animals to travel alongside human passengers. Prior to 2005, pets were allowed in the cabin on the airline’s international flights.

The service was discontinued, however, following complaints from passengers who suffered from allergies, or who generally felt uneasy in this environment.

The airline discovered an additional issue after the May trial. Specifically, that some passengers were reluctant to ride in an aircraft that had previously accommodated animals.

In response to this, ANA officials made clear that if the company does launch regular pet flights, it will do much more to inform customers about the way the cabin is cleaned after each flight. 

Despite this concerns, there are those in the tourism industry who expect great success if tours with pets do take off.

Professor of international tourism at Toyo University, Katsuhiko Shoji, who also happens to head a nationwide association promoting tours with pets, goes so far as to say that, “If long-distance travel becomes easier for them, Japan’s tourism industry will be revitalised.”

At the same time, Prof Shoji highlighted the need for cooperation from other actors in the leisure industry, such as hotels.

“Enabling pets to board the airplane is not the end goal. The cooperation of entities at the destination is also necessary,” he said.

 

Sources include: Japan Times

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Exxon spending big on clean tech advertising at Olympics

August 20, 2016

In response to pressure over climate change, Exxon Mobil Corp has been keen to show off its efforts toward advancing more clean technology through TV advertising at the Rio Olympics, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, the four advertisements made by the oil and gas giant highlight the company’s efforts toward capturing carbon dioxide from power plants, making biofuel from algae and developing fuel-efficient cars. 

Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers explained that,”our main objective is to provide people with more information about the important role Exxon Mobil plays in safely and responsibly meeting the world’s growing energy demands.”

He added that, “we want to inform people about the technology and innovation that go into providing energy.”

According to iSpot.tv, Exxon has spent a total of $19.3 million to air 233 TV adverts in the US market between the 5th and 17th August this year.

The company has declined to release figures for advertising expenditure in previous years, however at the Rio Olympics, Exxon has been the eighth largest spender on TV advertising, Reuters reports. 

While there is nothing uncommon about an oil company advertising at the Olympics, this advertising package comes at a time when the company is facing mounting pressure regarding its contribution to climate change, not only from environmental groups, but also from shareholders and state attorney generals.

From shareholders, the pressure comes as governments around the world are cracking down on carbon emissions and seeking to be less dependent on fossil fuels.

This year in particular Exxon has been met by escalating pressure to act on climate change.

In what marks the first shareholder proposal to pass since 2006, in May the company’s shareholders approved a measure that may place an external climate expert on its board.

Then in March, the company came under fire when over a dozen state prosecutors announced that they would be investigating whether or not past and present Exxon executives had misled the public by contradicting research by company scientists regarding the threats posed by climate change.

In response to this criticism, Exxon representatives have claimed that the company has been unfairly targeted by environmentalist groups.

They assert that the company  has acknowledged the reality of climate change for over a decade, and supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

The company’s research into carbon capturing is said to have been ongoing over three decades, while it’s endeavours to make biofuel from algae date back to 2009.

 

Sources include: Reuters

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Japanese sponsor contest to foster Palestinian entrepreneurialism

August 16, 2016

A small group of Japanese people have sponsored a competition in Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, that hopes to encourage economic independence among Palestinians, the Yomiuri Shimbun‘s English-language publication the Japan News reported recently.

The competition, which targeted people from their teenage years up to their 30s, took place last week on the 10th and 11th of August, after an initial screening of applications was whittled down to ten teams. 

First prize was eventually awarded to the team behind a concrete block made from residual ash from wood and other materials burnt in electricity generation, which according to the Japan News was “light-weight” and “low-cost.”

Organising the event were a team of around ten Japanese people – among them a university professor, a student and an entrepreneur – who all visited Khan Yunis in order to bring the business contest about. 

Also sponsoring the competition was the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

One of the judges in the contest, Seiichiro Yonekura, who is a professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, urged contest participants not to lose hope for the situation in Gaza.

 

Sources include: Japan News

 

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Pokémon a go go

July 19, 2016

Since the launch of Pokémon GO on the 6th July, Japan’s Nintendo Co has seen a 14% jump in share value, with its market capitalisation rocketing to 4.5 trillion yen ($42.5 billion, €38 billion) by Tuesday, Reuters has reported.

Much to the frustration of fans around the world, the release of this smartphone game was staggered, initially being limited to just the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Now, however, Pokémon GO is available to download on iPhones and Android phones in a total of 35, mostly European, countries, and has become a worldwide smash hit.

According to data collected by app analytics firm SimilarWeb, on the 7th July, one day after it’s official release in the United States, the game had already been installed onto more US Android phones than Tinder.

Moreover, the figures for app usage have also been astonishing. SimilarWeb reported on the 10th July that over 60 percent of those who downloaded the Android app in the US were daily users, which means roughly 3 percent of the entire US population were playing Pokémon GO on a daily basis.

The firm also reported that daily usage among players averaged 43 minutes 23 seconds, which puts its daily user activity higher than those of Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat or Messenger.

Meanwhile BBC News reported that in its initial week, Pokémon Go was more heavily tweeted than Brexit in the first week of the referendum (15.3 million tweets in comparison to 11.7) and twice as popular as the Euro 2016 football championships in its first week.

Even on the day of the UK referendum vote, there were almost as many Google searches for the game as there were for Brexit, and after it’s release, searches for the game even overtook those for that internet staple, pornography, reported the BBC.

For Nintendo, the runaway success of this game has provoked immense buying of their shares, on a scale that has surprised many.

Takashi Oba, senior strategist at Okasan Securities, said, “I’ve never seen the trend of such a big company’s shares changing so quickly in such a short period of time.” 

In fact, on Tuesday, trading in shares in Nintendo accounted for almost a quarter of all trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s main board, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile the turnover of Nintendo shares reached 703.6 billion yen ($6.6 billion, €5.9 billion) by the end of Tuesday, thereby surpassing the 476 billion yen ($4.5 billion, €4 billion) record it set on Friday for trading turnover in individual shares.

Until now Nintendo has not been a contender in the virtual reality and augmented reality market, yet there has been speculation that the company may seek to capitalise on the success of Pokémon GO, for example with other popular characters such as Super Mario and Zelda following down the same path.

Sources include: Reuters, BBC News, SimilarWeb

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Japanese snacks manufacturer to open factory in Wales

October 31, 2014

Japan’s largest manufacturer of savoury snacksCalbee Inc, will open a factory in North Wales, creating 100 jobs over 5 years.

Wales’ Economy Minister Edwina Hart and Chairman and CEO of Calbee, Akira Matsumoto, made the announcement in Japan today, following a meeting to finalise the deal.

The expansion into Wales marks the company’s first investment in Europe. Calbee (UK) Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Calbee Inc., and was established in February this year. The new site, located on Deeside Industrial Park will produce savoury snacks  for the UK and European markets. 

Mr Matsumoto, CEO of Calbee commented: “We are very excited to establish our first European factory in Wales.

“We are making a long-term commitment to grow our business from this important base in Deeside.”

Ms Hart said: “I am delighted to announce this important new inward investment for Wales.”

“Calbee is the latest in a long line of highly prestigious Japanese companies that have invested in Wales and I welcome their decision to establish their first European plant in Wales.”

The Calbee UK factory will initially produce its well-known pea-based snacks (“Snapea Crisps”) in a range of flavours. In addition to the manufacturing of the snacks, distribution and some R&D activities will also take place on site.

Production is set to commence in the first half of 2015.

The UK savoury snack market estimated to be worth around £3bn, and is the largest in Europe.

Source: Wales OnlineBBC

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Bhutan looks to Japan for help in introducing electric vehicles

July 3, 2014

The tiny Asian nation of Bhutan has a very big goal, to convert the country’s vehicles to electric power. The Bhutanese people’s culture has a deep respect for the environment, which is reflected in the Prime Minister’s decision in favour of zero emission vehicles.

Currently Bhutan’s main export is clean electricity from hydroelectric plants, which is sold to neighboring India. But most of the revenue from those sales at present goes to importing fossil fuels for transportation.

Following an economic crisis, the kingdom banned the import of new vehicles in March 2012, and subsequently imposed a “green tax” on all vehicles: 20 percent on those with engines of 1.8 liters or more, 5 percent on those below.

Prime Minister Tobgay announced his plan to reduce the country’s oil imports by 70 percent last December. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn followed this in February with an announcement of an agreement between the nation and the carmaker to provide electric vehicles for the country.

The opportunity to sell zero-emission electric cars was underscored by the Japanese carmaker Nissan’s simultaneous announcement that it had appointed a national sales company for the kingdom, named Thunder Motors. Nissan and Thunder will work together to develop localized versions of the company’s electric vehicles designed for conditions in the Himalayan nation, whose average elevation is 8,000 feet above sea level.

The first stage of the program is for Nissan Leaf electric cars to become both Bhutanese government vehicles and taxi cabs in the capital city of Thimphu.The Nissan Leaf is the most successful electric car in history, with over 100,000 sold.

Based on World Bank data for 2009, Bhutan has just 46 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people, meaning that its 742,000 citizens operate roughly 34,000 cars. Ghosn announced that Nissan hopes to sell “hundreds of cars” in the short term and “thousands” soon thereafter.

Though Nissan is be the world’s largest producer of battery-electric vehicles,  it will not have an exclusive on electric-car imports to Bhutan.

The Nissan CEO told Green Car Reports: “We welcome others, Nissan is most able to compete when buyers compare the performance, price, and customer satisfaction of the Leaf against any other electric vehicle.”

The big picture, Ghosn suggested, is that Bhutan can provide an inspiration, perhaps even a model, for emerging nations as they look toward expanding vehicle sales.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged this week that the “government and private sector of Japan will examine what we can do” to support Bhutan’s plan to introduce electric vehicles.

Tobgay is the first prime minister of Bhutan to make an official visit to Japan since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1986. On his recent visit Tobgay said he told Abe that Bhutan wants to introduce the vehicles to help conserve the environment and to reduce spending on oil imports.

Tobgay also took the time to convey his country’s appreciation for a recently signed grants agreement with Japan for underprivileged farmers.

“This assistance has been instrumental in improving the livelihood of farmers through increased productivity, and contributing to the nation’s effort to achieve food self-sufficiency and security,” he said.

During the talks, Abe also briefed Tobgay on Japan’s intention to become a “proactive contributor to peace” through international cooperation, in the light of China’s apparent willingness to pursue claims for territory and other resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to the U.N. Charter and its purposes, including the peaceful settlement of disputes based on the principle of international law,” Tobgay said.

 

Sources: Japan Times, Green Car Reports

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