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SoftBank sells off Nvidia and Flipkart stakes to bank $5.6 billion in exits for 2018

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(Image: SoftBank Group)

For the nine months to the end of the December, SoftBank has made a cumulative return of $5.6 billion for its 2018 fiscal year, made up of $3.3 billion from selling its stake in Nvidia, and $2.3 billion selling its shares in Flipkart.

SoftBank said its SoftBank Vision Fund completed the Flipkart exit in August, and sold off its Nvidia stake last month.

With Nvidia, SoftBank had a total investment cost of $2.9 billion made up of $0.7 billion in equity, $0.5 billion in preferred equity, and a $1.7 billion margin loan at August 2017. By the end of August, its equity had risen to $3.3 billion, with the same size of preferred equity and margin loan.

SoftBank pointed out that from Nvidia’s $281 peak share price on September 28 to the end of December 2018, when it sat at $134, its investment valuation had fallen by $4 billion. Through the use of derivatives via a collar transaction, it was able to recover $2.9 billion.

In May, Walmart took control of Flipkart for $16 billion, of which SoftBank had a 20 percent share.

SoftBank said that thanks to the 43.68 percent taxation rate on short-term capital gains in India, it had paid 65 million yen in tax on the Flipkart transaction.

Overall, the SoftBank Vision Fund investment vehicle had valuation gain of 693 billion yen for the nine months to the end of 2018, based on increases in valuations of Uber, WeWork, and Oyo.

Speaking during an earnings briefing on Wednesday, SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son said the Vision Fund had made investments in over 70 companies, most of which were unicorns and focused in some way on artificial intelligence.

In its Arm chip-designing division, adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) was down from 24 billion yen last year to 10 billion yen for the nine months to December 31, this year, mostly due to taking a 176 billion yen hit from selling 51 percent of Arm China to create a joint venture.

Net sales for Arm were down four percent, and technology licence revenue dropped by 28 percent year on year. SoftBank said the drop was due to a delay of new contracts being signed in China during the first half of the year. Once signed, revenue returned to normal.

From its telco holdings, SoftBank Corp reported a 0.6 percent increase in adjusted EBITDA to 986 billion yen for the nine-month period, with sales growing by 4 percent, and US telco Sprint increased its EBITDA by 15 percent to 1 trillion yen for the three quarters to December 31 as sales grew 2.7 percent.

SoftBank said that the new revenue standards which dropped average revenue per user (ARPU) by 96 cents, and the increasing uptake of smartwatches and automotive data devices which have lower ARPU than handsets, has made overall postpaid phone ARPU $50, and postpaid ARPU sit at $43.64.

For the conglomerate in total, SoftBank Group recorded 7.2 trillion yen in net sales, up 5 percent, and a 62 percent boost in operating income to 1.8 trillion yen for the nine months to the end of 2018. Net income for SoftBank Group was 1.57 trillion yen, an increase of 31 percent.

During that time, SoftBank Group reduced its ownership in SoftBank Corp from 99.99 percent to 66.49 percent.

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2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD Review: Too much and not enough

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Infiniti is getting squeezed. On the one hand, its premium rivals have fresher ranges, more competitive models, and sports sedans like this 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD can no longer count on power alone to distinguish them. On the other, mainstream and more affordable vehicles are getting ever-stronger, including cars from Infiniti’s own Nissan sibling.

It’s a pinch that has already claimed the QX80, Infiniti’s three-row SUV being more expensive yet less user-friendly than its Nissan Armada counterpart, and the QX50, which delivers “acceptable” in a category where “outstanding” has become table-stakes. I suspect the Q50 will be next to succumb.

Launched in 2013, and then massaged back in 2016, the Q50 is no spring chicken. Lest I be accused of automotive agism, let’s be clear: older needn’t mean worse. Get the recipe just right – as the old G-Class and Defender showed – and you can coast for decades on enthusiast appeal alone.

Problem is, I’m not convinced the Q50 is cooked quite right. At least, not sufficiently to make it an icon of the sort that you willingly look beyond its peccadillos. In short, a great engine does not a great car make.

Make no mistake, Infiniti’s 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo is a lovable thing. 400 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque are more than healthy, even half a decade after Infiniti unveiled it, and it sounds pretty darn glorious too. Raspy and prone to the occasional bark, it’s an exhaust that reminds you why – even with electrifications’ clear performance advantages at this point – EVs haven’t quite won over everybody yet.

Infiniti pairs it here with all-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission. The Q50 grips nicely, and though there’s a little lean through more aggressive cornering it’s never to the point where you’re afraid things might break loose. It’s definitely tuned on the firm side, and shoddy road surfaces do make themselves known in the cabin.

The automatic shifts smoothly, and is positively slushy when you’re pottering around town. It’s capable of faster stuff, though, however in Sport and Sport+ modes it’s perennially reluctant to upshift. That’s great when you’re pushing hard, but does leave you sounding like the person who forgot how to change gears when you’re tapping the 400 horses for more point-and-squirt play.

Since I’m British and already riddled with anxieties, I figured it was better to take over the gear-changes myself, lest people in the lane next to me think I just enjoyed the sound of a V6 spinning at 4,500 rpm while I was cruising at 35 mph or so. The good news is that manual overrides here don’t have any of the lag or seeming-disconnect that some automatics suffer, where it can feel like each snap of the paddle has to go via a panel of adjudicators before the cogs are actually shuffled.

My review car didn’t come with Infiniti’s most controversial option, the drive-by-wire steering. In theory, it allows for more responsive control as well as the ability to more comprehensively tweak the performance and feedback according to each drive mode. In reality, whenever I’ve driven an Infiniti with it, I’ve found it oddly light and distant: as though you’re using a console’s gaming wheel.

Honestly, even the Q50’s regular steering still feels a little disconnected from what’s happening at the road. Enough that, after my first drive, I double-checked the specs to make doubly-sure the Direct Adaptive Steering wasn’t added.

The overall feeling is a little… old-school. Infiniti’s V6 has plenty of torque from the get-go, but the underwhelming steering and transmission foibles just don’t make the best of it. A good sports sedan makes you want to drive it, even when you don’t have any other reason than desire. Even in Red Sport form, the Q50 just doesn’t inspire that lust.

The interior only helps a little. There’s plenty of space for those up front, but the rear bench is tight. Cabin nooks and cubbies are on the small side, too, and the 13 cu-ft trunk is easily bested by its competitors. It’s the tech where things really show their age, mind: Infiniti’s dual touchscreen dashboard is complex and the graphics are lumpen and ugly.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, as is – on the Red Sport 400 – a well-tuned Bose 16-speaker audio system, but they’re not enough to distract you from the small, outdated-looking display that’s sandwiched between the analog gauges.

Part of my frustration is the sense that Infiniti isn’t really trying, here. Or, at least, if the wishlist of potential upgrades for the Q50 had been ranked from easiest to toughest, the automaker hasn’t tackled even the low-hanging fruit. Sure, ditching the twin-screen infotainment for a whole new platform might be cost-prohibitive, but swapping in some metal paddle-shifters, replacing the cheap-feeling generic Nissan starter button, and upgrading some of the more plasticky trim would go a long way.

Instead you pay $145 to add charging ports to the rear, and that just seems ridiculous on a $58k luxury sedan. You do, at least, get leather, a power moonroof, heating for the front seats and steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assistance – that works well, unlike some rival systems – and dual-zone climate control. On the safety side, there’s predictive forward collision warnings with emergency braking, blind spot warnings and backup collision intervention, lane departure warnings, and a 360-degree camera that, though suffering woefully low-resolution graphics, does at least flag any moving objects to you.

Outside, 19-inch alloys are standard, plus red-painted calipers for the grippy sport brakes. All-in, with the carbon fiber side mirror covers and rear spoiler, the new Slate Gray paint, illuminated kick-plates, and the Cargo Package, it brings the 2021 Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD to $61,890 including the $1,025 destination.

For running costs, the EPA says you should see 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined. Not great on paper – though the RWD version does nudge ahead a little – but I managed over 24 mpg without too much effort.

2021 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 Verdict

The market has spoken and, as buyers swarm SUVs and crossovers, the stakes and expectations are higher than ever for a sports sedan. Therein lies Infiniti’s problem: the Q50 Red Sport 400 feels a lot like the car which launched in 2016. For about the same money today, you could have an AMG C43 or a BMW M340i xDrive, both down on power but each more engaging to drive and with nicer accommodations.

Or, for that matter, you could soon buy a 2021 Acura TLX Type S. Again it’s down on power, but it’ll be considerably cheaper than the Infiniti and the difference in cabin design and tech is chalk-and-cheese. In the end, after all, while high horsepower numbers are nice they’re still only part of an overall package.

That’s the challenge the Q50 faces. The V6 under its hood is the star, but even a perfect powertrain can’t carry a car that’s lacking elsewhere, and Infiniti’s isn’t even a perfect powertrain. It’s a potent engine, and it sounds fantastic, but the rest of the pieces here just don’t add up to something properly compelling in a fiercely competitive segment.

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The mythical 255-MPH Corvette Callaway Sledgehammer is up for sale

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Sure, the C4 Corvette-based Callaway Sledgehammer is an old car, but we’re not talking about an ordinary fourth-gen Corvette. The Callaway sledgehammer is a one-off version with an aero-optimized body kit and a twin-turbo V8 engine.

Oh, and did we forget to mention it’s bloody quick? If you love Corvettes, you probably heard of Callaway Cars based in Connecticut, maker of the C8 Corvette AeroWagen. In 1988, Callaway created the Sledgehammer, and it cemented their reputation as one of the finest Corvette tuners in the world.

Only one Sledgehammer is in existence, and the owner happens to be Reeves Calllaway, founder of Callaway Cars. He drove the Sledgehammer from Connecticut to the Transporation Research Center in Ohio 33 years ago to see how fast it will go on the center’s 7.5-mile oval track.

As it turned out, it wasn’t just insanely quick, but it broke speed records along the way. Driven by John Lingenfelter (founder of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering), the Callaway Sledgehammer reached a top speed of 254.76 mph, breaking all existing speed records at that time. Back in ’88, that speed is simply unheard of in any production sports car. And now, you can own the Callaway Sledgehammer, albeit at a rather hefty price.

And guess what, the bid price is rising fast. The Callaway Sledgehammer is on sale at Bring a Trailer for $425,476, and the bidding ends in 10 days as of press time. Two days ago, the bid price was $100,255. For a one-off speed demon, we’re expecting prices to sky-rocket as the bidding war ends, so prepare your checkbook if you really want to own a piece of Corvette history.

For the money, you’ll get a bespoke and hand-built 5.7-liter twin-turbocharged V8 producing 898 horsepower and 772 pound-feet of torque connected to a six-speed manual gearbox. Other custom changes include selective ride control suspension, a roll bar with five-point harnesses, a set of Dymag magnesium wheels, and a bespoke stainless steel exhaust with central-mounted quad tailpipes.

After performing its record-breaking top speed run, the Callaway Sledgehammer spent the past 33 years in a climate-controlled, museum-like environment, which probably explains the vehicle’s relatively mint interior and exterior. Other goodies include the window sticker, an accident-free report from Carfax, a clean Colorado title, and a car familiarization course from Callaway cars.

Happy bidding! Oh, and do let us know if you got the winning bid. We’d love to hear this car scream.

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Dastardly patent outlines a method of serving ads inside the car

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It’s hard to do anything today without being deluged by ads. You can’t stream videos from many sources without ads, you can’t surf the Internet without ads, and you can’t drive down the road without seeing billboards and other types of advertisements. A patent has turned up that was published on May 6, 2021, called “Billboard Interfaces for Vehicle Displays.”

The patent was filed by Ford Motor Company back in December 2016. The patent outlines a method and apparatus for a billboard interface for the display inside a vehicle. Essentially it serves ads on the infotainment system screen. According to the patent, an example method for generating a billboard interface for vehicle display includes obtaining via a camera an image of a billboard and identifying a segment of that image via a processor.

Ford’s patent can determine an event associated with the image segment and generate a billboard interface inside the vehicle to include a hyperlink of the segment that initiates the event. Essentially, it appears to be outlining a way as you’re driving down the road that the camera could recognize a billboard, identify a product, and offer a page on the infotainment system screen with a hyperlink you can press to buy the product or learn more about it.

The line art from the patent filing, which can be seen above, indicates the system can recognize a billboard for a local restaurant and generate a page inside the car. The page has a phone number that can be dialed at the press of a link, or navigation information can be served based on the address at the press of the link.

The system could be helpful and welcome if it only works when the user wants more information about a billboard they see on the side of the road. However, it could be highly intrusive if the system automatically generates this information on the screen for each billboard you pass while driving.

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