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Vocus network services and New Zealand covering for retail declines for FY19

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Image: Vocus Group

Vocus Group has maintained steady revenue as its profitability fell during the 2019 financial year.

For the year to June 30, Vocus has announced taking in a steady AU$1.9 billion in revenue as its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) dropped by 3% to AU$349 million, flowing into a 19% reduction in EBITA to AU$106 million, and a 44% reduction in net profit to AU$34 million.

The bulk of EBITDA was produced by its network services business, which saw sales increase 23% to AU$710 million, and underlying EBITDA grow 5% to AU$362 million. Vocus New Zealand gained an extra AU$21 million in revenue for this year, taking its total to AU$356 million, while also increasing its EBITDA by 4% to AU$59 million.

Conversely, the retail business experienced a 15% revenue drop to post AU$826 million, while EBITDA dropped 6.6% to AU$160 million. Common infrastructure, operations, and corporate functions across the group increased by AU$15 million over the year to be a AU$221 million drag on EBITDA.

During the year, Vocus spent AU$139 million in capital expenditure on the Australian Singapore Cable (ASC) that was made ready for service in September last year. The 4,600km $170 million cable was designed to carry 40Tbps at a minimum across four fibre pairs, and is currently carrying 4Tbits of traffic.

The ASC helped lift the revenue of network services, which saw a 29% and 85% increase in its data networks revenue and wholesale NBN sales, respectively, which offset a 3% fall in voice and 8% decrease in data centres.

Non-recurring revenue for network services spiked from AU$12 million to AU$120 million due to the building of the AU$137 million Coral Sea cable. On the cost front, the network services business is looking to automate its currently manual provision process, Vocus said.

Within the retail business, legacy products including copper broadband and PSTN voice saw a 38% sales decline, a 4% drop in mobile, and a 15% drop in energy sales, while NBN product revenue increased 30%.

Vocus Group CFO Mark Wratten said the company would look to diversify away from NBN towards wireless where possible. The company extended its Optus MVNO agreement to access 5G.

“In terms of NBN, our assumptions going forward are that NBN remains as it is — very uneconomic, that they don’t change their pricing structure in any way that’s favourable for RSPs or for our customers,” Wratten said.

“We’d hope that if common sense does prevail at some point in time, that would be an upside opportunity for us, but certainly we haven’t factored that into our thinking for the next few years.”

Vocus said in February that it was getting out of the NBN land grab due to the variable nature of the CVC pricing model being incompatible with the fixed rates paid by consumers.

“No profit margin after costs to migrate, acquire, and serve, together with backhaul and other admin and operational costs,” the company said at the time.

Vocus added that NBN pricing was “simply too high”, and it was cashflow negative after providing modems and backhaul.

On Thursday, the NBN was cited often as a profit drag within the retail business.

For its New Zealand business, the company saw its consumer segment grow 8% while its enterprise revenue remained steady.

Vocus Group CEO Kevin Russell said he was broadly satisfied with the result, highlighting three areas the company needed to work on.

“We have not adequately integrated networks, systems, processes, and cultures from a number of historical acquisitions. We have not invested in people capability, partnerships, products, systems, and strategies to deliver,” he said.

“We have to work through and absorb the impact of the NBN, and the erosion of legacy voice revenues in our retail business.”

The company upped its guidance for the 2020 fiscal year to underlying EBITDA of between AU$359 million to AU$379 million, a AU$9 million increase.

In July, the company announced its split into three divisions after two potential buyers walked away from acquiring the telco the month prior.

Related Coverage

Vocus splits operations into three businesses after two failed takeover bids

Company admits it has underinvested for the past two years as it now seeks to streamline its product set.

Vocus loses another potential suitor as AGL walks away

AGL states it is no longer confident its proposal would create value.

EQT walks away from Vocus proposal

Due diligence fails to result in an offer for Australian telco.

Dodo to refund AU$360,000 for misleading NBN streaming claims

The Vocus-owned telco will compensate around 16,000 customers.

NBN points to Telstra taking 20% of its revenue in wholesale price debate

After receiving AU$2 billion this year, Telstra is forecast to receive AU$1 billion annually from fiscal year 2021 well into the distant future.



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2022 Kia Carnival priced up as 3-row minivan bucks style trends

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Kia has revealed pricing for the 2022 Carnival, the three-row minivan which will replace the Sedona with something a little more stylish. Announced last month, the Carnival will kick off at $32,100 plus $1,175 destination for the entry-level LX trim when it arrives in US dealerships in Q2 2021.

On the outside, you can tell that the Carnival really, really wants to be an SUV. A bigger, bolder grille flanked with LED headlamps, along with bulging wheel arches and a contrast C-pillar set it aside from the Sedona, while at the rear there’s a trunk-spanning light bar and Kia’s new logo.

Still, the name of the game remains practicality. That means sliding rear doors for ease of access to the second and third rows, along with a choice of 7- or 8-seat configurations for the 168.2 cu-ft of passenger space. Drop or remove those two rows, meanwhile, and you’ll get up to 145.1 cu-ft of cargo room.

In the 7-seat models, there’s the option of heated and ventilated second-row VIP Lounge Seating captain’s chairs, with power adjustment, wing-out headrests, and leg extensions. The 8-seat Carnival has a “Slide-Flex” second row center seat, meanwhile, which can be shifted forward and back for easier third-row access, or converted into a table. Third row seats fold into the floor, while in all but the SX-Prestige trim the second-row seats can be physically removed.

The 2022 Carnival LX with Seating Package will start at $31,100 (plus destination), while the EX will be from $37,600. The Carnival SX will be from $41,100, while the flagship Carnival SX-Prestige will be from $46,100.

Regardless of trim, the same 3.5-liter V6 engine will be under the hood. That packs 290 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, and comes with an 8-speed automatic transmission as standard. Kia says it’ll tow up to 3,500 pounds.

What you can’t get is an all-wheel drive Carnival – only front-wheel drive – or a hybrid version, at least for the moment.

Standard across the board Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Blind-Spot Avoidance Assist, and Lane Keeping Assist. Options include Blind-Spot View Monitor, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist-Cyclist, and a 360-degree camera, along with Kia’s Highway Driving Assist and navigation-based Smart Cruise Control-Curve. There’s also Parking Collision Avoidance Assist to help prevent low-speed dings.

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I drove Chevrolet’s new Bolt EUV crossover and now I have an EV headache

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The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV has a problem and, embarrassingly for the new electric crossover, the headache is a family affair. Having spent time behind the wheel of the new EV last week, I can tell you it’s perky, affordable, and practical in its own way, as well as that it offers tech you’d previously have needed to splash out on a Cadillac to enjoy.

I can also tell you that the very elements that allow Chevrolet to make the Bolt EUV so attainable are at the root of its biggest issues. For all the new sheet metal – unique from the 2022 Bolt EV hatchback that launches alongside the crossover – there’s only so much that can be altered without pulling out the cards from the very bottom of the pyramid.

For Chevrolet, one of the primary charms of the Bolt platform today is just how familiar it is. The original car was launched in 2017; four years on, the supply base has matured, economies of scale have improved, and generally it’s become cheaper to manufacture. Now, it can reuse that platform for both the 2022 Bolt EV and Bolt EUV.

You can see the Bolt EUV’s recycling as either clever or cynical. While there may be some cannibalization of sales – would-be Bolt EV buyers opting for the 6-inch longer Bolt EUV – Chevrolet seems confident that there’ll be a net-gain overall. It’s also prepared to be flexible: there are enough common components that shifting the production mix between EV and EUV depending on how demand ends up breaking down shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

That leaves the decision with the buyer, and there it’s harder to make a recommendation one way or the other than I expected. For all the 2022 Bolt EUV promises, its advantages over its cheaper hatchback sibling all seem to come with small print attached.

Picking the crossover would be a whole lot easier, for example, were the Bolt EUV available with all-wheel drive. Sadly, like the regular Bolt EV, it’s front-wheel drive only, despite how Chevrolet brands the body style. That’s a limitation of the underlying platform and, though the engineers probably could revamp it to fit in a rear electric motor if they had sufficient time and cash to spare, right now that’s not on the roadmap and it’s hard to imagine the situation ever changing.

GM’s focus is on Ultium, its new platform for all-electric vehicles. There’ll be Ultium-based models across all of the company’s nameplates eventually, though they’ll kick off with the GMC Hummer EV and the Cadillac Lyriq SUV. Both are, conspicuously, high-price luxury models: a Hummer EV Edition 1 is three times what a Bolt EUV would cost you.

Eventually, assuming everything goes to plan, GM expects Ultium to be cost-effective for more affordable electric cars too. For the next couple of years at least, though, it’ll be the playground of the high end.

As I said in my Bolt EUV first drive, I suspect the absence of AWD as an option will hurt Chevy in some markets. Rivals in the segment, like the VW ID.4 and Tesla Model 3, offer AWD after all. Though a front-wheel drive EV on decent winter tires can be much better than an internal-combustion FWD car with the same rubber, there’s no escaping that for some drivers AWD is non-negotiable.

The Super Cruise situation is similarly complicated. Certainly, for the Bolt EUV to offer GM’s hands-free driver assistance technology – and to be the first outside of Cadillac to do so – is a feather in Chevy’s cap. All the same, it’s the old version of Super Cruise, not the new, “Enhanced” version which launched to great fanfare recently on the 2021 Escalade.

That means it can’t do automatic lane-changes, just keep you centered in the same line and maintain pace with the traffic ahead, without demanding you keep your hands on the wheel at the time. GM’s camera based driver-attention monitoring and Super Cruise’s stability are great, and it would be my assistance-system-of-choice were I planning a highway road trip any time soon, but the limitation is another reminder of how Chevrolet has revamped older technology for another release.

The reality is that the gap between the 2022 Bolt EV and the 2022 Bolt EUV is small. Very small. That extra space in the rear is literally just for legroom: the hatchback actually has a tiny bit more head, shoulder, and hip space, and even a slightly larger trunk than the crossover. Chevrolet’s usability improvements, like the latching one-pedal driving mode button, are for the most part present on both versions.

You can’t get Super Cruise on the 2022 Bolt EV, and it doesn’t come with the fancy dual-voltage charger the crossover includes, but it also starts at just $31,995. That’s $2k less than a base Bolt EUV, though if you want to add the $2.2k Super Cruise option you’ll need the crossover in Premier trim, which is from $38,495 (and throws in leather seats and a 360-degree camera, among other extras).

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Bolt EV, and like a lot of people who cover cars it’s an electric vehicle I often recommend as a solid budget option. Charming as the new Bolt EUV is, and as much as I enjoy Super Cruise, I’m not sure that’s all enough to sway the recommendation from its regular hatchback sibling. If low price without a range compromise are your primary motivators in buying a new electric car, I suspect the 2022 Bolt EV should still be your first port of call.

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VW ID.3 Convertible teased as Volkswagen tries new electric strategy

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Volkswagen is teasing a new all-electric convertible, apparently considering a more playful use of its EV drivetrain as the ID.4 crossover arrives in the US. The potential VW ID.3 convertible would be an open-top version of the ID.3 hatchback which went on sale in Europe last year, the first production example of the automaker’s MEB electric vehicle architecture.

MEB has been VW’s focus for the last few years, a modular car platform designed to underpin electric models from across its brands. Although multiple concepts using the system have been shown, the ID.3 hatchback was the first to reach production; in the US, the first taste of MEB is the new 2021 ID.4 electric crossover.

Now, though, VW is testing the waters for something more unusual. The VW ID.4 e-convertible would be, as the name suggests, an electric cabriolet based on the ID.3. It would have two doors and seating for up to five, at least based on the concept sketch that the automaker has released today.

“An ID.3 convertible? Sounds quite appealing: enjoying nature with the top down, with the instant, but silent electric punch,” Ralf Brandstätter, CEO of Volkswagen Passenger Cars says of the idea. “This could provide an entirely new, extraordinary feeling of freedom. I admit: a very tempting idea. We are still pondering how to turn this attractive concept into reality.”

It’s not the first time we’ve seen VW flirt with more unusual applications for the MEB platform. Back in early 2019 the company showed off the ID. BUGGY concept, an all-electric dune buggy with beefy wheels, no roof, and a wash-down-friendly interior. There were even plans to put it into production, with VW intending to provide the drivetrain while another company would focus on the rest.

That ended up hitting a wall, however, and though we had a chance to drive the ID. BUGGY prototype, the idea of a production version was shelved. The automaker remains open to the potential for licensing out MEB so that other automakers can bypass the R&D, regulatory, and testing requirements of making a new EV platform of their own, but we’re yet to see anything as playful as the electric dune buggy.

This convertible concept is certainly more mainstream than the ID. BUGGY would’ve been, though Brandstätter says that these sketches are still simply “some initial ideas.” As such, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to reach production stage.

What’s interesting is VW’s approach to testing the appeal of such an idea. The automaker has traditionally been fairly tight-lipped around its design process, preferring the regular cadence of concept cars unveiled at auto shows, and then the big, surprise debut of a production model to follow. This time around, however, VW execs are being more vocal about the possibilities: as well as Brandstätter’s speculative post, VW group CEO Herbert Diess mused on the potential for an electric convertible on Twitter.

It’s a conversational-style approach we’ve seen used to good effect by Tesla, with Elon Musk single-handedly acting as cheerleader for new features, a sounding board for fresh ideas, and a point of contact for those frustrated with their EVs. While Musk’s strategy hasn’t been entirely smooth-sailing – and has seen him clash heads with the US Securities and Exchange Commission before now – it certainly hasn’t hurt enthusiasm among Tesla’s loyal following.

That’s the sort of enthusiasm VW has seen among owners in the past, among iconic models like the Microbus and the Golf GTI. It’s been comparatively absent in more recent years, however. As MEB begins to arrive in dealerships, that motivational homework appears to be something Volkswagen leadership are taking more seriously.

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