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Indian Car Buyers Lapping Up SUVs, High-Tech Features Like Never Before

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By PTI | Updated: 17 July 2022

India’s romance with SUVs is intensifying and automakers are fuelling the affair, having launched 36 such models in the last five years. Such is the craze for SUVs at present that waiting periods for some of the most popular models are stretching to over two years, and fresh orders are still flowing in. Car buyers are now willing to spend more on their personal mode of travel and are preferring top-end variants that come loaded with features such as a sunroof and connected technologies.

In India, where hatchbacks used to dominate the sales charts, entry-level and mid-sized sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are are growing in popularity, leading to more and more product launches in the segment. “The SUV segment has seen a major growth in the last few years. The SUV segment’s contribution, which was around 19 per cent of the industry, has now gone up to 40 per cent in 2021-22 and we see it growing further,” Maruti Suzuki India Senior Executive Director (Sales and Marketing) Shashank Srivastava told PTI.

One of the reasons for the growth of this segment has been customers’ liking for vehicles with a high stance and better road visibility, he added. With this increase in demand, the entry-level SUV segment became the largest in the domestic passenger vehicle market last fiscal, overtaking the premium hatchback vertical which has dominated the market since 2011.

Out of 30.68 lakh units last year, the entry-level SUVs’ share stood at 6.52 lakh units. It is also no surprise that the largest number of model launches in the last five years in the entire passenger vehicle segment has been in the compact and mid-level SUV space.

“Also, the new age millennials are preferring to buy high-end variants which come equipped with several comfort and convenience features. Preference for feature-loaded cars has gone up from 17 per cent in 2016-17 to 24 per cent in 2021-22. In some of our models, like the recently unveiled Brezza, the top variants account for 70 per cent of bookings,” Srivastava noted.

Studies show that spending will increase further now, and people are willing to spend more, he said.

Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles Managing Director Shailesh Chandra said differentiated design, evolving lifestyles, a shift from public to personal transport as a result of the pandemic, and a growing awareness of safety and convenience features are some of the factors that are driving growth in the passenger vehicles market.

“Customers today know exactly what they desire and we constantly strive to provide them with the same through our range, which is refreshed in short intervals, be it in terms of features, variants or brand new products,” he stated.

Chandra said the company’s strong comeback in FY21, reclaiming the third position in terms of volumes and being a challenger brand, has been thanks to a new range of cars and SUVs, which have been developed after studying the market in depth and understanding evolving customer needs.

Kia India Chief Sales Officer Myung-Sik Sohn said the increasing demand for SUVs among Indian customers clearly shows a strong preference towards bold, stylish vehicles with a tall stance. “We launched the Carens earlier this year and have already sold more than 30,000 units in less than five months,” he added.

Another trend the company is observing is that more and more customers are buying the top-end variants of cars, Sohn noted. “In fact, 47 per cent of the total Kias sold in India are top trims and this shows that customers today demand nothing but the best.” Customers today want connected features in their cars, and Kia now has more than two lakh connected cars on Indian roads with an activation rate of 97 percent, Sohn said.

Further, the modern digital savvy customer is increasingly scouting for the entire experience of owning a car with minimal physical contact, he added.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Associate Vice President (Sales and Strategic Marketing) Atul Sood said the rapid pace of urbanisation and economic development is contributing to the demand for SUVs. Quite a number of models are already available in the segment in response to demand, thus making SUVs one of the strongest lineups in the car market today, he pointed out.

Sood noted that new launches and product refreshments always bring in excitement and added interest among customers. “We at Toyota have received an overwhelming response for all our new offerings, including the new Camry Hybrid and the new Glanza,” he said.

Science

ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission Completes Eight Years in Orbit, Well Beyond Planned Six-Month Lifespan

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 26 September 2022

India’s Mars orbiter craft has completed eight years in its orbit, well beyond its designed mission life of six months. Plans on a follow-on ‘Mangalyaan’ mission to the Red Planet, however, are yet to be firmed up.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – a technology demonstration venture – is the maiden interplanetary mission of the national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Launched on November 5, 2013, the probe was successfully inserted into Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 in its first attempt.

To mark the latest milestone, ISRO has organised a ‘National Meet on Eight Years of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)’ at its headquarters here on Tuesday with an inaugural address by its Chairman S Somanath.

Space Commission members K Radhakrishnan and A S Kiran Kumar would deliver special addresses at the meet, which would focus on themes ‘Mars Orbiter Mission Overview’, ‘Scientific Achievements’ and ‘Future Directions in the exploration of the inner solar system’.

As the then chairman of ISRO, Radhakrishnan had led the MOM (Mangalyaan) mission team.

ISRO came out with an ‘Announcement of Opportunity’ (AO) for future Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM-2) in 2016 but officials acknowledged that it’s still on the drawing board, with the coming ‘Gaganyaan’, ‘Chandrayaan-3’ and ‘Aditya – L1’ projects being in the space agency’s current priority list.

The AO had said: “It is now planned to have the next orbiter mission around Mars for a future launch opportunity. Proposals are solicited from interested scientists within India for experiments onboard an orbiter mission around Mars (MOM-2), to address relevant scientific problems and topics”.

“Not in the approved list as of now”, a senior ISRO official told PTI on Monday on being asked about an update on the MOM-2.

“We need to formulate the project proposals and payloads based on the wider consultation with the research community”, the official said on condition of anonymity. “It’s still on the drawing board. But needs some more details and international collaboration for finalising the mission”.

“It’s quite a satisfying and fulfilling moment”, MOM’s Programme Director M Annadurai told PTI today on the Mars orbiter craft completing eight years in orbit.

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NASA Aims to Redirect Asteroid in DART Mission’s First Attempt at Planetary Defence

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022

Ten months after launch, NASA’s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft neared a planned impact with its target on Monday in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system, designed to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth.

The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7pm EDT (4:30 IST) some 6.8 million miles (11 million km) from Earth.

The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.

It marks the world’s first attempt to change the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, has made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control to be handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey.

Monday evening’s planned impact is to be monitored in real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 560 feet (170 metres) in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin.

Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test cannot create a new existential hazard by mistake.

Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs.

Smaller asteroids are far more common and pose a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts.

Also, their relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission o
f DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test.

Robotic mission suicide

The mission represents a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft must ultimately crash to succeed.

The plan is for DART to fly directly into Dimorphos at 15,000 miles per hour (24,000 kph), bumping it hard enough to shift its orbital track closer to its larger companion asteroid.

Cameras on the impactor and on a briefcase-sized mini-spacecraft released from DART days in advance are designed to record the collision and send images back to Earth.

DART’s own camera is expected to return pictures at the rate of one image per second during its final approach, with those images streaming live on NASA TV starting an hour before impact, according to APL.

The DART team said it expects to shorten the orbital track of Dimorphos by 10 minutes but would consider at least 73 seconds a success, proving the exercise as a viable technique to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – if one were ever discovered. A small nudge to an asteroid millions of miles away could be sufficient to safely reroute it away from the planet.

The test’s outcome will not be known until a new round of ground-based telescope observations of the two asteroids in October. Earlier calculations of the starting location and orbital period of Dimorphos were confirmed during a six-day observation period in July.

DART is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to explore and interact with asteroids, primordial rocky remnants from the solar system’s formation more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Last year, NASA launched a probe on a voyage to the Trojan asteroid clusters orbiting near Jupiter, while the grab-and-go spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is on its way back to Earth with a sample collected in October 2020 from the asteroid Bennu.

The Dimorphos moonlet is one of the smallest astronomical objects to receive a permanent name and is one of 27,500 known near-Earth asteroids of all sizes tracked by NASA. Although none are known to pose a foreseeable hazard to humankind, NASA estimates that many more asteroids remain undetected in the near-Earth vicinity.

NASA has put the entire cost of the DART project at $330 million (roughly Rs. 2,700 crore), well below that of many of the space agency’s most ambitious science missions.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Internet

Google Says Decade-Old Demand for Shared Network Costs by EU Telecom Operators is Bad for Consumers

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022

Alphabet unit Google on Monday rebuffed a push by European telecoms operators to get Big Tech to help fund network costs, saying it was a 10-year-old idea that was bad for consumers and that the company was already investing millions in Internet infrastructure.

The comments by Matt Brittin, president of EMEA business & operations at Google, come as the European Commission said it would seek feedback from the telecoms and tech industries on the issue in the coming months before making any legislative proposal.

Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and other big operators have long complained about tech rivals freeriding on their networks, saying that they use a huge part of internet traffic and should contribute financially.

The idea, floated more than 10 years ago, could disrupt Europe’s net neutrality or open internet access, Brittin said.

“Introducing a ‘sender pays’ principle is not a new idea, and would upend many of the principles of the open Internet,” he said according to the text of a speech to be delivered at a conference organised by telecoms lobbying group ETNO.

“These arguments are similar to those we heard 10 or more years ago and we have not seen new data that changes the situation.”

It “could have a negative impact on consumers, especially at a time of price increases,” Brittin said, citing a report by pan-European consumer group BEUC outlining such concerns.

He said Google, owner of YouTube, has done its part to make it more efficient for telecoms providers by carrying traffic 99 percent of the way and investing millions of euros to do so.

“In 2021, we invested over 23 billion euros in capital expenditure – much of which is infrastructure,” Brittin said.

These include six large data centres in Europe, 20 subsea cables globally, with five in Europe, and caches to store digital content within local networks in 20 locations in Europe.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Technology

5G Services Rollout Expected ‘Very Soon’, Aiming for Pan-India Coverage in 2 years, IT Minister Says

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By ANI | Updated: 26 September 2022

5G telecom services in India will be launched very soon and the government’s target will be to cover the entire country within 2 years, said Union Electronics and Information Technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw at an event on Sunday.

India is gearing up for the rollout of 5G services by October, the minister had earlier said.

The government in mid-August issued spectrum allocation letters to telecom service providers while asking them to prepare for the rollout of 5G services.

With this spectrum allotment, India is in the final stage of rolling out high-speed 5G telecom services.

Reliance Jio has already announced it will launch high-speed 5G telecom services by Diwali this year in multiple key cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. Subsequently, it intends to expand its 5G network to each and every town, tehsil and talukas across the country by December of 2023, which is nearly 18 months from now.

What is 5G, and how is it different from the current 3G and 4G services?

5G is the fifth-generation mobile network capable of transmitting a large set of data at a very rapid speed.

In comparison to 3G and 4G, 5G has a very low latency which will enhance user experiences in various sectors. Low latency describes the efficiency to process a very high volume of data messages with a minimal delay.

The 5G rollout is also expected to bring more development in remote data monitoring in sectors such as mining, warehousing, telemedicine, and manufacturing, among others.

Who were the participants in the auction?

Reliance Jio, Adani group, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea are the four major participants in the spectrum auction.

How much revenue did the government make from the auction?

Department of Telecom received total bids worth Rs. 1.50 lakh crore from the recently concluded auction. Revenue from the auctions was initially estimated to be Rs. 80,000-90,000 crore.

Speed:

5G services are expected to be about 10 times faster than 4G.

Rollout:

High-speed 5G telecom services are expected to be offered in several cities in the county by the end of the year 2022.

Adani Group forays into the telecom sector:

This is the first time that the Gautam Adani-led Adani group, which recently forayed into the telecom sector, participated in the bidding process of the 5G telecom spectrum auction.

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Computers

Intel Said to Select Veneto as Preferred Site for Multibillion-Euro Chip Plant in Italy: All Details

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022

Mario Draghi’s outgoing government and Intel have picked the town of Vigasio in the northeastern Veneto region as their preferred site for a new multibillion-euro chip factory in Italy, two people familiar with the matter said.

Intel’s investment in Italy is part of a wider plan announced by the US chipmaker last March to invest as much as EUR 80 billion (roughly Rs. 6,27,930 crore) over the next decade in building capacity across Europe.

With an initial investment worth some EUR 4.5 billion (roughly Rs. 35,340 crore) expected to rise over time, Intel has said the Italian plant would create 1,500 jobs plus an additional 3,500 jobs across suppliers and partners, with operations to start between 2025 and 2027.

The Italian factory would be an advanced semiconductor packaging and assembly plant, using new technologies to weave together full chips out of tiles.

Asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, the sources said that the parties had detailed a comprehensive agreement in early September, but no public announcement would be made before the outcome of Sunday’s general election.

A spokesperson for Intel did not comment as negotiations are ongoing and confidential. Draghi’s office also declined to comment.

Located near Verona, on the strategic Brenner motorway and railway, Vigasio is the preferred option from a shortlist of two sites which also includes one in the northwestern Piedmont region.

Among other reasons, the site is well connected with Germany and in particular with the city of Magdeburg, where Intel will build two factories, one of the sources added.

Intel and the government had also initially considered sites in the Lombardy, Apulia, and Sicily regions.

Draghi’s close aides aim to enter into behind-the-scenes negotiations with their likely successors to avoid any risk the deal might be challenged by Italy’s new government, the people said, adding the choice for the site is highly sensitive politically.

Opinion polls have all predicted that Giorgia Meloni’s nationalist Brothers of Italy group will emerge as the leading party on Sunday and share power with its allies the League, headed by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

The sources declined to provide further details, but Reuters has previously reported that Rome is ready to fund as much as 40 percent of Intel’s total investment in Italy.

The state contribution to Intel’s investment programme is something that must necessarily be shared with the next government before any deal is eventually formalised, one of the sources said, adding Draghi could let the next government make the announcement.

To boost domestic chipmaking, Rome is also in talks with French-Italian STMicroelectronics, Taiwan chipmakers MEMC Electronic Materials Inc and TSMC, and Israeli Tower Semiconductor, which Intel bought earlier this year.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Elon Musk to Activate Starlink After US Guidance on Expanding Internet Access to Iranians Amid Protests

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By Reuters | Updated: 26 September 2022

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Friday that he would activate the firm’s satellite Internet service, Starlink, in response to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tweet that the United States took action “to advance Internet freedom and the free flow of information” to Iranians.

The US Treasury Department on Friday issued guidance expanding Internet services available to Iranians despite US sanctions on the country, amid protests around Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman in custody.

A Treasury official briefing reporters said: “Our understanding of Starlink is that what they provide would be commercial grade, and it would be hardware that’s not covered in the general license; so that would be something they would need to write into Treasury for.”

A US State Department spokesperson later said of Friday’s updated license that it was self-executing and that “anyone who meets the criteria outlined in this general license can proceed with their activities without requesting additional permissions.”

Musk could not be reached for comments or clarification regarding Starlink’s clearance to operate in Iran.

Iranians have been protesting over the death of Mahsa Amini last week while in police custody after being arrested by the morality police for wearing “unsuitable attire”.

Musk said on Monday that the company wanted to provide Starlink satellite broadband service – already provided to Ukraine for its fight against Russia’s invasion – to Iranians, and would ask for a sanctions exception.

The US State Department spokesperson added that if SpaceX were to determine that some activity aimed at Iranians requires a specific license, “OFAC would welcome it and prioritize it”.

“By the same token, if SpaceX determines that its activity is already authorized and has any questions, OFAC also welcomes that engagement,” the State Department spokesperson said.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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