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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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2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Review – A hotter plug-in hybrid

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Polestar may be occupied making all-electric cars right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s too busy to give co-owner Volvo a hand with some performance upgrades for the Swedish automaker’s most popular models. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is fine example, a plug-in hybrid promising not only green credentials but a bump in power under the hood and in pleasure from behind the wheel.

Volvo’s T8 Polestar hybrid powertrain combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine – with both supercharging and turbocharging – with an electric motor. Gas power gets pushed to the front wheels; electric to the back. The result is what Volvo calls eAWD, along with a total of 415 horsepower and 494 lb-ft of torque.

That’s up 15 hp and 22 lb-ft over the non-Polestar version, and it means 0-60 mph arrives in 4.9 seconds. Driven more sedately, expect 26 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined, or 57 MPGe. In pure electric mode, Volvo says you’ll get about 19 miles from the 9.1 kWh battery.

Charging is via a port on the front driver’s side wing. Figure on a three hour charge if you have a Level 2 30 amp outlet to hand; more like a day if you only have a regular 110V socket. The XC60 T8 uses regenerative braking to automatically top up the battery while you’re on the move, and in its most potent drive mode will actively top up the battery when it can to make sure you always have the most power on tap.

Opting for the most-expensive Polestar Engineered trim doesn’t just coax a little more out of the drivetrain. The styling gets a boost, too, with 21-inch 5-Y Spoke black polished forged alloy wheels, dual integrated tailpipes, and gloss black trim where the regular XC60 might typically wear chrome. The gold Akebono brakes clamp on vast discs, and also look mighty fine glimpsed between the wheels’ spokes.

As you might expect for a performance-minded crossover, there’s adjustable damping too. Volvo’s pick of Ohlins system, however, can’t be controlled through its dashboard touchscreen or the drive mode dial. Instead, you have to physically click a knob on each damper, giving you 22 different settings to choose from. Frankly, the idea of pulling over and trying to tweak the firmness because there’s a sinuous ripple of road up ahead – or because those onboard are complaining of the stiffness – is laughable.

Thankfully, then, Volvo dials it in at a reasonable compromise out of the factory. Firmer than a standard XC60, certainly, but only to the point where things stay flat and even in eager driving. Big wheels and stiff suspension are usually a recipe for a more percussive ride, but the Polestar manages to avoid anything too aggressive.

In fact it feels very much set up for impromptu play. Leave it in Hybrid or Constant AWD modes and the XC60 will thrum around with smooth finesse, reliably planted and with no shortage of torque for overtaking or spurting away from the lights. Volvo’s blend of internal combustion power with the electric motor is handled neatly; most of the time you’d swear you were in a regular AWD crossover, and the times you wouldn’t are when the rear’s instantaneous shove gives you a welcome surprise.

Notch over to the Polestar Engineered drive mode, however, and things get feistier. Never unruly, though with all that torque there’s plenty of opportunity to test Volvo’s commitment to traction. It’s fun and punchy, though a similarly-priced Porsche Macan is still more engaging in the corners.

Inside, Volvo’s cabin remains a pleasant place to find yourself. The seats are comfortable for long-distance cruising, and there’s plenty of high-quality materials for your fingers to find like real metal and Nappa leather. Gone is the open-pore wood in the regular XC60, replaced with silver mesh trim for the Polestar, but there’s no compromise on cargo space: up to 63.3 cu-ft with the rear seats down, and a 3,500 pound towing capacity.

There’s a 12.3-inch display for the driver’s instrumentation – complete with an easy-to-follow gauge showing you where the electrons are flowing – and a superb Bowers & Wilkins audio system on the options list. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is a head-up display, navigation, panoramic sunroof, heated front and rear seats plus steering wheel, and a 360-degree camera.

A few areas are beginning to show their age. The 9-inch Sensus touchscreen seemed vast when Volvo debuted it in 2015; these days, it feels a little cramped. Its interface is still straightforward – as long as you remember which side to swipe to find the driver-aids and settings – but Android Automotive on the XC40 Recharge is a pointed reminder that there’s better to come. The wireless charging pad in the center console, meanwhile, is a little too small for the largest smartphones to fit on properly.

I can’t fault Volvo’s safety tech, however. Adaptive cruise control, LED headlamps with corner-bending lights, front and rear collision mitigation and lane-keeping assistance, blind spot warnings with rear cross-traffic alerts, and parking assistance are all included. Pilot Assist, Volvo’s hands-on driver assistance package with lane-keeping, is available, and works well, though I’m more excited about the Highway Pilot system the automaker aims to introduce from 2022.

Still, waiting for that would mean missing out on the XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered’s charms today, and that would be a shame. It’s a handsome, practical, and safe hybrid crossover that makes as much sense when you’re driving sedately as it does when you put your foot down. In fact the only problem is price.

A regular 2021 XC60 starts from $41,700 (plus destination), and a Volvo XC60 Recharge Hybrid from $53,500. This Polestar Engineered version kicks off at $70,195 however – albeit before any US tax credits and incentives – at which point you’re pretty much in Porsche Macan GTS territory. No, the Macan isn’t a plug-in hybrid, but it’s a far more rewarding driver’s car.

In the end, though I can’t really question the Polestar treatment here – weird, manually-adjusted dampers aside – I also struggle to recommend this top-spec XC60 versus its regular PHEV sibling. Sure, you miss out on a little power, but you still get the reassurance of eAWD and the crossover’s general practicality and handsome looks. The 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered is speedy and capable, but that performance fettling nudges it into territory with some heavy hitters.

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TruckHouse turns the Toyota Tacoma into a slick RV

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TruckHouse has unveiled a very cool Toyota Tacoma-based RV designed as an expedition vehicle to go just about anywhere. TruckHouse is based in Nevada, and since the Tacoma is a mid-size pickup, the result is a compact RV known as the BCT. The BCT uses a carbon fiber-reinforced camper rig that replaces the bed of the pickup creating a place to live.

It’s challenging to build a camper or RV based on the Tacoma because of the pickup’s limited payload capacity. For many Tacoma owners, a tent on a rack in the bed is as good as the accommodations get. TruckHouse overcomes some of the limitations using very lightweight construction techniques borrowed from aerospace and marine industries.

The living quarters is chassis mounted and made from a carbon fiber-reinforced composite monocoque. We have multiple images of the vehicle’s exterior along with a floor plan, but no actual pictures of the interior. Currently, TruckHouse is still working on the prototype and hasn’t offered a final weight.

What it has said is that the camper shell the BCT uses weighs 500 pounds. The floor plan shows the camper would have a queen-size bed in the portion that sticks out over the pickup cab. The floorplan also shows a convertible dinette the can be used for additional sleeping accommodations, a wet bathroom, kitchen, and a fridge/freezer drawer.

The camper also has plenty of windows, including a 360-degree window with a wide rear picture window, a pair of windows in the front wall above the cab alcove, and an overhead skylight. The convertible dinette turns into a double bed, making the camper capable of sleeping four. While the BCT in the images is based on the Tacoma TRD Pro, buyers will be able to build the RV on any Tacoma trim.

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This is the first Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport in the USA

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Someone in Greenwich, Connecticut, is grinning from ear to ear. Bugatti has begun the first worldwide deliveries of Chiron Pur Sport, a sportier rendition of the standard Chiron with a fixed rear wing, magnesium wheels, and a 217 mph top speed. Bugatti handed over the car to the brand’s official partner, Bugatti Greenwich, in West Putnam Avenue, Connecticut, after which the keys were given to the lucky owner.

“Bugatti of Greenwich is honored to have delivered the world’s first Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport to a very valued and loyal client. A long time Bugatti aficionado who now holds the keys to the purest Bugatti ever made,” says Evan Cygler, Sales Manager, Bugatti Greenwich.

The first Chiron Pur Sport to arrive in U.S. soil has Quartz White paint with a contrasting Grey Carbon split. Meanwhile, the lower panels are finished in grey exposed carbon, and the roof, rear wings, side mirrors, and Bugatti horseshoe grille feature the same naked carbon finish. Of course, it also has Bugatti’s exclusive Sky View roof, while the owner can bask in the vehicle’s sumptuous Italian Red leather interior.

Unlike a standard Chiron, the Pur Sport is an athletic grand-tourer with sharper handling and better agility. It has a gargantuan 8.0-liter W16 quad-turbocharged engine producing 1,479 horsepower and 1,180 pound-feet of torque. The W16 engine in Pur Sport has a higher 6,900 rpm redline, while the standard seven-speed gearbox has 15-percent shorter gear ratios to deliver blistering acceleration.

Mind you, Pur Sport is not the fastest Chiron in terms of top speed, but it rushes to 60 mph in 2.3-seconds and goes from zero to 124 mph in 5.9-seconds, faster than a standard Chiron. It also has better downforce with its gigantic, fixed rear wing, larger rear diffuser, new front splitter, and wider front air intakes.

Underneath, Chiron Pur Sport has titanium exhaust tips, titanium brakes, new electronic dampers, and minus 2.5-degrees of camber for sportier handling. It also rides on bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that deliver better lateral grip.

Bugatti is only making 60 examples of Chiron Pur Sport, and each vehicle will be made in Bugatti’s Atelier in Molsheim, France. As expected from an ultra-exclusive hyper sports car, the Pur Sport is not cheap. Prices start at around $3.6-million each.

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