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ACCC opposes TPG and Vodafone Australia merger

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Image: Asha McLean/ZDNet

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has opposed the merger between TPG and Vodafone Australia.

The decision initially appeared in a short statement on the consumer watchdog’s site.

“This information was inadvertently published online on our mergers register briefly this afternoon,” the Commission said.

The ACCC later on Wednesday updated its announcement, saying it believed the merger would substantially lessen competition, and that TPG had the commercial incentive to roll out a mobile network.

“TPG is the best prospect Australia has for a new mobile network operator to enter the market, and this is likely the last chance we have for stronger competition in the supply of mobile services,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“Wherever possible, market structures should be settled by the competitive process, not by a merger which results in a market structure that would be subject to little challenge in the future. This is particularly the case in concentrated sectors, such as mobile services in Australia.”

In explaining its decision, the ACCC pointed to Australia’s concentrated mobile services market, with the three network operators, Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone, boasting over 87% share. Similarly, it said the fixed broadband market is concentrated, with Telstra, TPG, and Optus having approximately 85% share.

Sims noted that TPG has the fibre assets, transmission network, spectrum, and customer base to move into mobile, while Vodafone had moved into fixed broadband.

“TPG is also facing reducing margins in fixed home broadband due to the NBN rollout. Further, there is the growing take-up of mobile broadband services in place of fixed home broadband services which is expected to increase especially after the rollout of 5G technology,” Sims added.

“After thorough examination, we have concluded that, if this proposed merger does not proceed, there is a real chance TPG will roll out a mobile network.”

However in January, TPG made the decision to abandon its mobile network build in Australia, and cop a AU$230 million accounting hit as a result.

TPG said the decision was made due to the Australian government’s ban on Huawei 5G equipment. The telco said it had purchased equipment for 1,500 sites, as well as 900 fully or partially completed small cell sites. The company has already racked up AU$100 million in costs, with a further AU$30 million to come.

“It is extremely disappointing that the clear strategy the company had to become a mobile network operator at the forefront of 5G has been undone by factors outside of TPG’s control,” Executive Chairman David Teoh said at the time.

“Over the past two years a huge amount of time and resource [sic] has been invested in creating and delivering on a strategy that would have positioned TPG very favourably to exploit the opportunities that the advent of 5G will present.”

On the accounting side, the largest individual cost will be the reduction in value of its unused spectrum licences by AU$92 million, with the telco saying this was due to licences having a finite duration.

“Having ceased its mobile network rollout, the group now has no business plan or strategy for using its spectrum licences on a standalone basis and, accordingly, the carrying value of these licences is required to be reassessed,” the company said.

The ACCC’s decision on the merger had previously been delayed due to a lack of information from the parties.

In December, the ACCC said in a statement of issues that it had concerns over the proposed merger.

“Our preliminary view is that TPG is currently on track to become the fourth mobile network operator in Australia, and as such it’s likely to be an aggressive competitor,” Sims said at the time.

“We therefore have preliminary concerns that removing TPG as a new independent competitor with its own network, in what is a concentrated market for mobile services, would be likely to result in a substantial lessening of competition.

“If TPG remains separate from Vodafone, it appears likely to need to continue to adopt an aggressive pricing strategy, offering cheap mobile plans with large data allowances. Our preliminary view is the merged TPG-Vodafone would not have the incentive to operate in the same way.”

The ACCC said at the time it would also look into whether removing Vodafone as a fixed broadband competitor would impact competition.

TPG and Vodafone Australia announced in August the deal that proposed to create a new entity worth AU$15 billion that would use the TPG moniker.

Updated 5.05 pm AEST 8 May 2019: Added further comments from the ACCC.  

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2022 Honda Passport is hitting the rally circuit

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The 2022 Honda Passport is hitting the rally circuit as the Japanese automaker fortifies its motorsports pedigree. And similar to the Honda HPD Ridgeline that competed at the recently concluded Rebelle Rally, the Passport is going rallying with a team of Honda engineers led by suspension test engineer and driver Chris Sladek and chassis design engineer and co-driver Gabriel Nieves. Both men are from Honda’s North American Auto Development Center in East Liberty, Ohio.

Honda recently debuted its redesigned 2022 Passport five-seat crossover SUV, which now gets a more rugged TrailSport variant with chunkier aesthetics, 18-inch wheels, and 8.1-inches of ground clearance. However, the rally version is the brainchild of the Honda Performance Development (HPD) Maxxis Rally racing team. It has 17-inch BRAID Winrace T rally wheels, Maxxis RAZR M/T or RAZR A/T tires, rear differential skid plates, and an aluminum oil pan cover to protect vital underpinnings from impacts and bumps.

Other changes include protective high-density polyethylene panels on the fuel tank, Carbotech XP12 brake pads, and racing-bred brake fluid to offer reliable stopping power. It also has OMP racing seats with six-point competition harnesses, a roll cage, a rally computer, and a fire suppression system. Of course, it gets distinctive exterior livery courtesy of HPD.

The Passport rally car is also lighter than stock with Lexan polycarbonate rear glass and deleted rear seats. Other changes like a hydraulic handbrake are mandatory, while the modified exhaust offers a louder exhaust sound while reducing engine backpressure to improve performance.

Meanwhile, there are no changes under the hood. The 2022 Honda Passport rally car is hitting the rally circuits with a stock 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 engine, a nine-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters, and i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive system. “The fact that we didn’t make any modifications to the 2022 Honda Passport’s drivetrain or suspension for such punishing terrain and competition speaks volumes to the capability and performance that comes standard in the Passport,” said driver Chris Sladek.

Honda’s Passport rally truck made its racing debut at the Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) in Michigan last October 15 to 16. The team finished 22nd out of 42 regional competitors while placing 4th out of six in the Limited 4WD class. The Passport will see more action throughout the 2022 American Rally Association (ARA) series.

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The 2022 Honda Civic Si aims right for the sweet-spot

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Honda promised something hotter from the 11th Gen Civic line, and the 2022 Civic Si is just that. Taking the well-received Civic Sedan, and then pumping in some extra performance, it should bridge the gap between now and the new Civic Type R expected to launch sometime next year – and be more affordable than that car, too.

It’s got some solid underpinnings to start from, with both the Civic Sedan and the Civic Hatchback getting praise for their handling and poise. This new Civic Si, meanwhile, upgrades Honda’s turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine, and then pairs it with a 6-speed manual transmission.

The engine is good for 200 horsepower arriving at 6,000 rpm, with a 6,500 rpm redline. Torque is 192 lb-ft, now arriving between 1,800 and 5,000 rpm; that, Honda points out, is 300 rpm sooner than the outgoing car. The broader power curve and a lighter flywheel should make for a car that responds more rapidly, the automaker promises.

As for the transmission, it’s an improved 6-speed manual with the rev-matching system from the Civic Type R. The result, Honda says, is a better feel and 10-percent shorter throws. You’ll have to like it, mind, since Honda won’t be offering the 2022 Civic Si with an automatic option. Fuel economy comes in at 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined.

A helical limited-slip front differential is standard, along with a new Active Sound Control system which boosts the natural engine noise in the cabin. Honda insists it’ll add to, rather than detract from, the overall driving experience. Bigger brakes have been fitted, with 12.3-inch front rotors growing a whole 1.2-inches over the standard Civic Sedan, while the rear rotors grow almost an inch to 11.1-inches total. 235/40R18 all-season performance rubber is standard, with summer tires a factory option.

As with the Sedan and Hatchback, the new Si benefits from the 11th Gen Civic’s stiffer body and longer wheelbase. Honda then adds 8-percent stiffer front springs and 54-percent stiffer rear springs, together with new dampers, reinforced upper front MacPherson struts for better cornering, and thicker front and rear stabilizer bars to cut body roll. The Type R donates compliance bushings, upper arms, and lower B-arms, while steering gets an upgrade courtesy of a stiffer torsion bar.

There are still Normal and Sport drive modes, but an Individual mode has been added. That allows the driver to choose their mix of engine response, steering weight, and instrumentation theme settings.

Outside, there’s a new upper front bumper, a reworked rear bumper with twin oval exhaust tips, a front spoiler, and a gloss black rear spoiler. More gloss black appears on the mirrors and window surrounds, and Honda makes LED lighting front and rear standard, too. 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels – in an Si-specific matte black – are standard, too, and the Blazing Orange Pearl paint is exclusive to the car as well.

Inside, Si-exclusive sport seats with integrated head restraints and more shoulder and lower thigh support are included, along with sport pedals and red contrast stitching. The honeycomb dash panel is carried over, but with red trim now. A 7-inch driver display and 9-inch infotainment touchscreen are standard, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Honda also adds the 12-speaker Bose audio system, and Honda Sensing is standard, too.

Pricing will be confirmed closer to the 2022 Civic Si’s arrival in dealerships later in 2021.

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Toyota Tacozilla inspired by 1970s Chinook campervans to debut at SEMA

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We bet you haven’t heard of the Toyota Chinook campervan, but we’re pretty sure you’ll be looking forward to Toyota’s Tacozilla campervan concept at this year’s SEMA show in November. The Toyota Chinook is a collaboration between the Japanese automaker and American wagon maker Chinook RV. The first Toyota Chinooks entered the market in 1973 and were essentially motorhomes with a pop-up roof built on a long-wheelbase Toyota half-ton truck chassis.

And since it’s a Toyota, Chinook campervans have the same bulletproof reliability as Toyota trucks. The folks at Toyota’s motorsports tech center in Texas created Tacozilla with the Chinook in mind, but it now has a more contemporary design to cope with seriously rugged terrain.

Starting with a Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport manual, the team conceptualized a bed-mounted micro-house with a cab-over design and a stubby rear end to lessen the approach and departure angles, making it effortless to find a suitable camping spot in the wild outdoors. According to project manager Marty Schwerter, Tacozilla will be sleeker, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient than any Toyota Chinook before it, not to mention more off-road capable than ever before.

Toyota claims the camper is tall enough for a six-foot two-inch person to stand while cooking meals in the built-in kitchenette. The home quarters will also have a table, a standard toilet, and a two-person bed. Tacozilla will also come in a unique retro-inspired red, white, and orange livery as those vintage Chinook campervans. “Racecars are cool looking,” added Schwerter. “I want campers to be cool looking, too.”

And while the old Chinooks were motivated by Toyota’s 18R motor, Tacozilla will have a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine with 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. The initial rendering also features unique off-road wheels and chunkier Cooper Discoverer all-terrain tires.

Unlike other concepts, the Toyota Tacozilla is as real as it gets. The automaker is working overtime in finishing the prototype just in time for the 2021 SEMA Show this November 2 to 5, 2021. The question is, can we expect Tacozillas at Toyota dealerships soon? If Toyota did it in the early 1970s, we could see no reason it won’t be doing it again. But will Tacozilla be as cool as those retrolicious Chinook camper vans? We’ll have to wait for SEMA to find out.

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