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With electric car sales soaring and regulations increasingly favouring zero-emission vehicles, a flurry of announcements on Monday showed how the global auto industry has kicked into a higher gear as it races to speed past the fossil-fuel car era.

As part of its own 30 billion euro ($34.7 billion) electrification plan Stellantis (STLA.MI) – born out of a merger of PSA and Fiat Chrysler earlier this year – said it had entered a preliminary agreement with battery maker LG Energy Solution to produce battery cells and modules for North America, where the world’s No. 4 automaker expects more than 40 per cent of its U.S. sales will be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030.

That follows a recent announcement that Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) will take a 33 per cent stake in battery cell manufacturer Automotive Cells Company (ACC), founded in 2020 by Stellantis and TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) in 2020.

Carmakers are racing to secure battery supplies as they switch to electric, with dozens of new battery plants planned across Europe and America.

Ford Motor Co’s (F.N) plans to go electric in Europe received a boost on Monday as the company said it would invest up to 230 million pounds ($316 million) to retool an engine factory in northern England to produce electric car power units instead of combustion-engine transmissions.

The No. 2 U.S. carmaker has said its car lineup in Europe will be all-electric by 2030.

Companies like Mercedes-Benz Daimler maker have warned that shifting to electric will cost jobs at combustion-engine plants, so Ford’s announcement is a boost for workers making fossil-fuel engines at its Halewood plant near Liverpool.

The shift to electric has also been accompanied by changes in the automotive landscape, with a large number of startups hoping to become the next Tesla Inc (TSLA.O).

That has attracted the attention of Taiwan’s Foxconn (2317.TW), which has ambitious plans to diversify away from its role of building consumer electronics for Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and other tech firms.

Indeed, Foxconn unveiled its first three EV prototypes on Monday – an SUV, a sedan and a bus – made by Foxtron, a venture between Foxconn and Taiwanese car maker Yulon Motor Co Ltd (2201.TW).

It first mentioned its EV ambitions less than two years ago and has moved relatively quickly, this year announcing deals to build cars with U.S. startup Fisker Inc (FSR.N) and Thailand’s energy group PTT Pcl (PTT.BK).

The need for speed was also a reason Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) had Tesla CEO Elon Musk address top executives at the German carmaker over the weekend.

Volkswagen’s CEO Herbert Diess has made no secret of his ambitions to chase and overtake Tesla, the world’s leading electric carmaker.

But in a Linkedin post, Diess said he had invited Musk as a “surprise guest” to drive home the point that VW needs faster decisions and less bureaucracy for what he called the biggest transformation in the company’s history.

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An Apple employee who led fellow workers in publicly sharing instances of what they called harassment and discrimination at the company said on Thursday that she had been fired.

Janneke Parrish, an Apple program manager, said the iPhone maker informed her on Thursday that she had been terminated for deleting material on company equipment while she was under investigation over the leaking of a company town hall to media. She told Reuters she denies leaking.

Parrish said she deleted apps that contained details of her finances and other personal information before handing her devices in to Apple as part of the probe.

Parrish said she believes she was fired for her activism in the workplace.

“To me, this seems clearly retaliatory for the fact that I was speaking out about abuses that have happened at my employer, pay equity and, generally, about our workplace conditions,” she said.

Apple said Friday it does not discuss specific employee matters.

Apple has recently experienced other examples of employee unrest. Last month, two Apple employees told Reuters they had filed charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers accused Apple of retaliation and halting discussion of pay among employees, among other allegations.

Apple has said that it is “deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace” and that it takes “all concerns” from employees seriously.

US law protects the right of employees to openly discuss certain topics, including working conditions, discrimination and equal pay.

Over the summer, current and former Apple employees began detailing on social media what they said were experiences of harassment and discrimination. Parrish and some colleagues began publishing the stories on social media and a publishing platform in a weekly digest titled ‘#AppleToo.’

Parrish said she was careful to respect company rules and never shared information that she believed to be confidential. She said she continued to publish the ‘#AppleToo’ digest after coming under investigation at the end of September.

“If anything, it’s made the importance of that work clearer than ever, when Apple’s response to criticism is to start internal investigations into those that it wants to see gone,” she said. “It’s easier for them to terminate people than it is for them to actually listen.”

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Investor Michael Burry of “The Big Short” fame said he was no longer betting against Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) and that his position was just a trade, CNBC reported on Friday.

Burry’s Scion Asset Management said in a regulatory filing in mid-May it had put options on 800,100 Tesla shares as of the end of the first quarter. Details on the strike price of the puts, their value and whether they were part of a broader trade were not available.

Based on Tesla’s closing price of $667.93 at the end of the first quarter, the value of that many shares would have been about $534 million. The actual value of the options position was not known.

Put options give investors the right to sell shares at a certain price in the future.

Options analysts said at that time it was possible the puts disclosed in the filing might be part of a larger trade that would curb losses if the put position went against the fund.

“No, it was a trade,” Burry was quoted as saying in an email to CNBC on Friday, when asked whether he was still shorting Tesla.

“Media really inflated the value of these things. I was never short tens or hundreds of millions of any of these things through options, as was reported. The options bets were extremely asymmetric, and the media was off by orders of magnitude,” Burry told CNBC.

One of the investors profiled in the book “The Big Short” and the film of the same name for betting more than $1 billion against the US housing bubble, Burry has previously been skeptical of Tesla’s sky-high valuations.

Tesla and Scion Asset Management did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Shares in Tesla rose marginally after the bell on Friday.

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A file photo shows the capsule with Nasa's Lucy spacecraft

Nasa launched a first-of-its kind mission on Saturday to study Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, two large clusters of space rocks that scientists believe are remnants of primordial material that formed the solar system’s outer planets.

The space probe, dubbed Lucy and packed inside a special cargo capsule, lifted off on schedule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:34 a.m. EDT (0934 GMT), Nasa said. It was carried aloft by an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance (UAL), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Lucy’s mission is a 12-year expedition to study a record number of asteroids. It will be the first to explore the Trojans, thousands of rocky objects orbiting the sun in two swarms – one ahead of the path of giant gas planet Jupiter and one behind it.

The largest known Trojan asteroids, named for the warriors of Greek mythology, are believed to measure as much as 225 kilometers (140 miles) in diameter.

Scientists hope Lucy’s close-up fly-by of seven Trojans will yield new clues to how the solar system’s planets came to be formed some 4.5 billion years ago and what shaped their present configuration.

Believed to be rich in carbon compounds, the asteroids may even provide new insights into the origin of organic materials and life on Earth, Nasa said.

“The Trojan asteroids are leftovers from the early days of our solar system, effectively the fossils of planet formation,” principal mission investigator Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by Nasa as saying.

No other single science mission has been designed to visit as many different objects independently orbiting the sun in the history of space exploration, Nasa said.

As well as the Trojans, Lucy will do a fly-by of an asteroid in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, called DonaldJohanson in honor of the lead discoverer of the fossilized human ancestor known as Lucy, from which the Nasa mission takes its name. The Lucy fossil, unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974, was in turn named for the Beatles hit “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Lucy the asteroid probe will make spaceflight history in another way. Following a route that circles back to Earth three times for gravitational assists, it will be the first spacecraft ever to return to Earth’s vicinity from the outer solar system, according to Nasa.

The probe will use rocket thrusters to maneuver in space and two rounded solar arrays, each the width of a school bus, to recharge batteries that will power the instruments contained in the much smaller central body of the spacecraft.

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The Long March-2F Y13 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft and three astronauts in China's second crewed mission to build its own space station

China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts, including one woman, to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest-ever duration in orbit for Chinese astronauts.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel” in Chinese, blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. Beijing time (1623 GMT on Friday).

China began construction of the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe – the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.

Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.

In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.

China, barred by U.S. law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own station.

With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers, headed by Senators Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Republican Chuck Grassley, plan to introduce a bill that would bar Big Tech platforms, like Amazon (AMZN.O) and Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) Google, from favoring their products and services.

The bill is one of a slew introduced in this Congress aimed at reining in tech firms, including industry leaders Facebook (FB.O) and Apple (AAPL.O). Thus far none have become law although one, a broader measure to increase resources for antitrust enforcers, has passed the Senate.

This bill, which Klobuchar’s office said would be introduced early next week, would be a companion to a measure which has passed the House Judiciary Committee. It must pass both houses of Congress to become law.

Klobuchar and Grassley’s bill would specifically prohibit platforms from requiring companies operating on their sites to purchase the platform’s goods or services and ban them from biasing search results to favor the platform.

“As dominant digital platforms — some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen — increasingly give preference to their own products and services, we must put policies in place to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace,” Klobuchar said in a statement.

Klobuchar is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee while Grassley is the top Republican on the full committee. Co-sponsors include Democrats like Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the full Judiciary Committee, Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker, as well as Republicans Lindsey Graham, John Kennedy and Cynthia Lummis.

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"Star Trek" actor William Shatner is driven to the launch pad of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket before mission NS-18 for a suborbital flight

Actor William Shatner soared aboard a Blue Origin rocketship on a suborbital trip and landed in the Texas desert on Wednesday to become at age 90 the oldest person ever in space as U.S. billionaire businessman Jeff Bezos’s company carried out its second tourist flight.

Shatner was one of four passengers to journey to the edge of space aboard the white fully autonomous 60-foot-tall (18.3 meters-tall) New Shepard spacecraft, which took off from Blue Origin’s launch site about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural west Texas town of Van Horn.

The four astronauts experienced about three to four minutes of weightlessness and travelled above the internationally recognized boundary of space known as the Karman Line, about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth. The crew capsule returned to the Texas desert under parachutes, raising a cloud of dust.

The four astronauts, all wearing blue flight suits with the company’s name in white letters on one sleeve, climbed into the crew capsule atop the spacecraft before the launch and strapped in after ascending a set of stairs accompanied by Bezos. Each rang a bell before entering the capsule, with Bezos then closing the hatch. Before that, they rode a vehicle with Bezos at the wheel to the launch pad.

Winds were light and skies were clear for the launch, which was conducted after two delays totalling roughly 45 minutes.

Joining Shatner – who embodied the promise of space travel in the classic 1960s TV series “Star Trek” and seven subsequent films – in the all-civilian crew were former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen, clinical research entrepreneur Glen de Vries and Blue Origin vice president and engineer Audrey Powers.

It marked the second space tourism flight for Blue Origin, billionaire U.S. businessman Jeff Bezos’s company founded two decades ago.

Blue Origin’s rocket New Shepard blasts off carrying Star Trek actor William Shatner, 90,

The flight represents another important day for the nascent space tourism industry that, according to UBS, could reach an annual value of $3 billion in a decade. The flight, previously scheduled for Tuesday, was pushed back a day for wind-related reasons.

Blue Origin had a successful debut space tourism flight on July 20, with Bezos and three others aboard, flying to the edge of space and back on a trip lasting 10 minutes and 10 seconds. On that flight, pioneering female aviator Wally Funk at age 82 became the oldest person to reach space. The previous record was set in 1998 when pioneering astronaut John Glenn returned to space as a 77-year-old U.S. senator.

Bezos, the Amazon.com Inc founder and current executive chairman, formed Blue Origin two decades ago.

Shatner, who turned 90 in March, has been acting since the 1950s and remains busy with entertainment projects and fan conventions. He is best known for starring as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on the classic 1960s TV series “Star Trek” and seven subsequent films about fictional adventures in outer space.

As an actor, Shatner was synonymous with space voyages. During the opening credits of each episode of the series, he called space “the final frontier” and promised “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

“Beam me up,” Shatner’s character would tell the Enterprise’s chief engineer Scotty, played by James Doohan, in a memorable catchphrase when he needed to be transported to the starship.

Shatner said there is both irony and symmetry to his space trip, having played a space explorer for decades and now actually becoming one.

“Having played the role of Captain Kirk … assigns me the knowledge that a futuristic astronaut would have, but I’ve always been consumed with curiosity,” Shatner said in a Blue Origin video.

Shatner’s participation in the flight has helped generate publicity for Blue Origin as it competes against two billionaire-backed rivals – Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc – to attract customers willing to pay large sums to experience spaceflight.

Branson inaugurated his space tourism service on July 11, riding along on a suborbital flight with six others aboard his company’s VSS Unity rocket plane. SpaceX, which has launched numerous astronauts and cargo payloads to the International Space Station for NASA, debuted its space tourism business by flying the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth’s orbit in a three-day mission ending Sept. 18.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration two weeks ago said it will review safety concerns raised by former and current Blue Origin employees who have accused the company of prioritizing speed and cost savings over quality control and adequate staffing.

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Taiwan’s TSMC (2330.TW) and Japan’s Sony Group Corp (6758.T) are considering jointly building a chip factory in Japan, with the government ready to pay for some of the investment of about 800 billion yen ($7.15 billion), the Nikkei reported on Friday.

The plant in Kumamoto, southern Japan, is expected to produce semiconductors for automobiles, camera image sensors and other products which have been hit by a global chip shortage, and is likely to start operations by 2024, the report said.

Both Sony and TSMC declined to comment. But TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and major Apple Inc (AAPL.O) supplier had said in July that it was reviewing a plan to set up production in Japan.

TSMC has been concerned about the the concentration of chipmaking capability in Taiwan, which produces the majority of the world’s most advanced chips.

China does not rule out the use of force to bring the democratic island under its control.

Japanese officials are also worried about the supply chain stability of its industries, with a global chip shortage forcing automakers to cut production.
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Facebook Inc apologized to users for a two hour disruption to its services on Friday and blamed another faulty configuration change for its second global outage this week.

The company confirmed its social media platform, Instagram, Messenger and Workplace were impacted by the latest outage.

“Sincere apologies to anyone who wasn’t able to access our products in the last couple of hours,” the company said. “We fixed the issue, and everything should be back to normal now.”

During the latest outage, some users were unable to load their Instagram feeds, while others were not able to send messages on Facebook Messenger.

People swiftly took to Twitter to share memes and jokes about the second service disruption this week. “Looks like Facebook went to a 3-day work week. Monday and Friday shutdowns?” a Twitter user said.

Instagram thanked users for their patience and “for all the memes this week”.

On Monday, the social media giant blamed a “faulty configuration change” for a nearly six-hour outage that prevented the company’s 3.5 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.

The outage on Monday was the largest that web monitoring group Downdetector had ever seen and blocked access to the apps for billions of users, leading to a surge in usage of rival social media and messaging apps.

Moscow officials said Monday’s outage showed Russia was right to develop its own social media networks, while EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager highlighted the repercussions of relying on just a few big players, underscoring the need for more rivals.

Both the outages piled pressure on Facebook this week after a former employee turned whistleblower accused the company on Sunday of repeatedly prioritizing profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.

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Elon Musk

With final approval for its German factory potentially just weeks away, Tesla’s (TSLA.O) Elon Musk will make an appearance in the tiny town of Gruenheide this Saturday to host a county fair.

Despite pandemic-related curbs limiting gatherings in Germany to under 5,000 people, Tesla applied for – and got – a permit to have 9,000 at the Oct. 9 ‘Giga-Fest’, after local authorities agreed the event would be COVID safe.

Coming on the heels of officials allowing the company to break ground on its new site before final approval had even been granted, environmental groups say this is just the latest example of Tesla being given too much leeway to act disruptively in Germany – a pattern they worry will continue.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

The pre-approvals Musk has received from local authorities to build without final permission are legal, but rarely used by German firms because of the associated risk: if final approval is not granted, Tesla must pay to tear everything down.

While some bemoan Musk’s approach as throwing German caution to the wind, others – who say German regulations governing planning, jobs and environmental concerns are unnecessarily restrictive – welcome the influence he could have on the country’s business culture.

“I am fully convinced Tesla can have a positive effect on Germany,” Brandenburg’s economy minister Joerg Steinbach, a prominent advocate of the factory, told Reuters.

“The fundamental idea of taking a close look at current legislation and checking whether it could perhaps be modernised – without risking a loss to legal clout – is in my opinion absolutely worth considering.”

The country’s powerful unions are already gearing up to fight for German-style contracts for Tesla workers, environmental groups are poised to oppose any further expansion plans, and locals wary of Musk’s ‘American’ ways are watching the firm’s every move.

“Tesla has to stick to environmental protection laws, building laws, and of course labour and unionisation laws,” Birgit Dietze, head of the Brandenburg region for union IG Metall and a former member of Volkswagen’s supervisory board, said.

Musk has made his irritation for German laws and processes known, saying in a letter to authorities in April that the country’s complex planning requirements were at odds with the urgency needed to fight climate change.

Once running, the factory will produce 500,000 electric cars a year and generate 50 gigawatt hours (GWh) of battery capacity – more than any other plant in the country.

Conversations between the union and applicants indicate Tesla, whose CEO is known for his rocky relationship with organised labour, is offering pay 20 per cent below the collectively bargained wages offered at other German automakers, IG Metall said.

It is also shaking up conventional German contracts by offering packages with stock options and bonuses rather than predetermined holiday pay.

Driving a harder bargain with its workforce could create a competitive advantage for Tesla, whose choice to set up its first European gigafactory in the homeland of Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Daimler (DAIGn.DE) and BMW (BMWG.DE) has raised the stakes in the global battle for EV dominance.

Musk has already experienced German union power. When Tesla bought German car parts supplier Grohmann Automation in 2017, it set wages 30 per cent below average, refusing to match collectively bargained pay.

After the firm offered one-off bonuses and stock options instead, unions dropped a threat to strike. Unions say stock options have also been mooted at the Brandenburg factory.

GERMAN CARMAKERS CAN’T DO IT - BUT TESLA CAN

Of the 12,000 positions to be created at the factory, 800-1,200 have been filled so far, according to IG Metall and Steinbach.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment or questions on how recruitment was progressing. But data from LinkedIn suggest applications are low, with fewer than 10 applicants for most of the factory positions advertised in the past month.

Gruenheide is a 45-minute drive from the Polish border, and Tesla is widely expected to recruit workers from there.

“20 per cent under German wages is still very good pay for Polish workers,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, an expert on the German auto industry, said.

“German automakers couldn’t do it; they’d get into big trouble with the unions. But Tesla can do it.”

Musk had planned on starting production in July in order to deliver the Model Y car to European customers from Berlin – but local opposition and the late addition of a battery plant requiring blueprints to be resubmitted to authorities held up the process.

The delay forced Tesla to deliver the Model Y from Shanghai, prolonging waiting times and increasing costs.

In a document published online in late September containing all 813 objections to the factory filed with local authorities and Tesla’s responses, the company repeatedly reminded its critics that it was creating jobs and bringing Germany closer to its electric mobility goals.

“I understand the concerns. But some of it is selfish. It’s always the same – people want things like wind farms and electric vehicles… just not in their backyard,” said 60-year-old Grunheide local Ralf-Thomas Petersohn, a member of Germany’s official Tesla fan club.

A public hearing scheduled for Sept. 23 for citizens to discuss objections to the factory was moved online due to concerns that it could become a “super-spreader event”, authorities said, a decision which some viewed as hypocritical considering the likely approval of Tesla’s request for a 9,000-person party.

“This isn’t about Tesla. It’s about whether you take citizen participation seriously,” Michael Ganschow of environmental organisation Gruene Liga said. “We can’t just say, ‘You’re making electric cars, so you can do whatever you want’.”

REUTERS