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  • Writer's pictureMike V.

Weekend Reading

Bloomberg: Alphabet's Waymo Reviving Detroit Plant With Self-Driving Cars

The birthplace of America’s auto industry and driving culture will soon have one of the world’s first plants making driverless cars. Alphabet Waymo LLC picked an idled American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. facility in Detroit as the site where it will equip vehicles made by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Jaguar Land Rover Automotive Plc with self-driving technology. The Mountain View, California-based company will lease the factory and start work on its self-driving vehicles this summer, creating “hundreds” of jobs over time.

The move by Waymo gives a small boost to a part of the Motor City that’s been hit hard by industrial decline and manufacturing jobs moving to Mexico. American Axle started downsizing its industrial complex on the border of Detroit and Hamtramck in 2008 and shuttered it four years later. General Motors Co. has also downsized a nearby sedan plant and may close it next year. Waymo’s cars will be so-called Level 4 autonomous vehicles, equipped with hardware and software allowing the cars to drive themselves without the assistance of a human operator as they follow mapped-out routes in strictly defined areas. Waymo said it’s chosen a site that allows it to quickly start operating in the middle of this year, and that has a deep local talent pool of engineers and other automotive professionals. In an post from January, the company said another reason it wanted to establish a presence in Detroit was the city’s inclement winter weather. Snowy conditions are a serious challenge for the laser-based Lidar and other sensors that self-driving cars use to see objects in their path. Waymo said it’ll start working to overcome weather issues in Detroit’s notoriously tough winter months. GM has a similar operation about 40 miles away in Orion Township, Michigan, where it assembles the Chevrolet Bolt electric car. In a separate shop inside the assembly plant, workers install self-driving hardware for autonomous vehicles that are being tested by GM Cruise LLC, the automaker’s San Francisco-based autonomous-vehicle unit.

FT: Ford invests $500m in electric pick-up truck start-up Rivian

Ford is investing $500m into Rivian, an electric vehicle start-up that has developed its own battery pick-up truck, in a move intended to help it catch up with rivals in the new technology. The deal comes months after Rivian announced a $700m investment round led by Amazon. The agreement sees Ford beat arch-rival General Motors to partner with the start-up. GM had originally been reported to be part of the Amazon-led funding round. Under the deal, Rivian will provide its “skateboard” architecture to Ford for an all-new battery electric vehicle to be made by the US car group. Ford said the new vehicle does not change its own plans to release a battery version of its best-selling F-150 pick-up truck in 2021.

The use of the technology also does not prevent Ford from striking a similar deal with Volkswagen to use the German company’s equivalent technology, called MEB, chief executive Jim Hackett said. Ford and VW have been in talks for months about the US group using the German company’s electric technology, after the pair launched a new global alliance in January to develop some future vehicles and technologies together. The move will help Ford push forward to catch global rivals in rolling out electric vehicles. “One of the great benefits is the opportunity to go faster, so speed is a big part of this,” said Mr Hackett. Ford has pledged to spend $11bn on battery cars, but has only outlined firm plans for two — a pick-up and a small sporty utility vehicle inspired by the Mustang. As part of the deal, Ford’s automotive president Joe Hinrichs will join the board of Rivian. “We will have some products that will compete, but that’s a normal part of the world that we live in today,” he added. Ford did not reveal the size of its stake, though said Rivian will remain an independent company. Rivian, which recently disclosed a partnership with Amazon, had discussions with several carmakers before settling on Ford, RJ Scaringe, founder and CEO, said. He added that his company can learn from Ford’s manufacturing capabilities as well as its supply chain management. Rivian’s US factory has the capacity to build around 250,000 vehicles annually.

Reuters: Department of Justice opens probe into Ford's emissions certification process

Ford Motor Co said the U.S. Department of Justice had opened a criminal investigation into the automaker's emissions certification process in the United States. The potential concern does not involve the use of defeat devices, the company said in a regulatory filing. Ford disclosed the matter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board in February.

FT: DoJ Demands Guilty Plea From Goldman Sachs In Malaysia Case

Any investor who has been following DoJ's criminal investigation of the Goldman's facilitation of $4.5 billion fraud at Malaysian sovereign wealth fund probably guessed that, whatever the outcome of the probe, it wasn't going to end well for the bank. Goldman Sachs could face the worst of all possible outcomes in the probe, for which it set aside half of a billion dollars in a legal contingency fund during Q4. US justice department staff have recommended that a settlement with Goldman Sachs over its role in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal should include a guilty plea at the parent company level. Any such plea would be the toughest penalty the Department of Justice could bring against Goldman. Goldman has paid billions of dollars in fines over its unscrupulous treatment of clients and counterparties alike. But so far, the bank has managed to avoid actually copping to a felony. Now it appears that streak of evading lasting criminal stigma might soon be at its end. The DoJ's decision is a sign that prosecutors have rejected Goldman's defense that the 1MDB-related malfeasance was the work of a few bad actors. A steady stream of leaks published last year, just months after longtime CEO Lloyd Blankfein retired, revealed that senior executives - including Blankfein himself - were involved in the Malaysian bank scandal.

US Housing Market Cools Down, Home Sales Slump For 13th Straight Month

March was expected to see a contraction of 3.8% but fell more and February was revised weaker. Sales decreased for a fourth time in five months despite lower mortgage rates. March's existing home sales slumped 4.9%, notably worse than the 3.8% drop expected. This is the 13th straight month of annual existing home sales declines. As the median home price rose 3.8% from last year to $259,400, and inventory rose 3.1% to 1.68m homes. “There’s a supply-demand mismatch,” Jessica Lautz, NAR’s vice president. “More inventory is needed at the lower end and a price reduction may be needed at the upper end.” The report adds to signs of a cooling market in March, including a government report Friday showing housing starts fell to the slowest pace since May 2017.

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