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India’s Passenger Vehicle Makers See Double Digit Growth Amid Improvement in Chip Shortage Issue: Details

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 1 August 2022

Improvement in semiconductor shortage issue helped auto makers, including Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai, Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra, report single to high double-digit growth on Monday in their domestic passenger vehicles sales in July.

Other manufacturers, Kia India, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM), Honda Cars India, Skoda Auto India, also reported robust growth in their domestic passenger vehicle sales with the auto industry estimated to have achieved the highest-ever passenger vehicle wholesales in July this year.

Maruti Suzuki India said its domestic passenger vehicle sales rose 6.82 percent last month to 1,42,850 units compared to 1,33,732 units in July 2021.

“The shortage of electronic components had a minor impact on the production of vehicles, mainly in domestic models,” the company said in a statement.

The company’s sales were driven mainly by compact cars, including Baleno, Celerio, Dzire, Ignis, Swift, Tour S, and WagonR, which rose to 84,818 units in July 2022 from 70,268 units in the year-ago month.

Sales of mini cars — comprising Alto and S-Presso — grew to 20,333 units last month, up from 19,685 units in July 2021. However, sales of utility vehicles —including Brezza, Ertiga, S-Cross and XL6 — were lower at 23,272 units compared to 32,272 units.

“The overall industry sales stood at over 3.42 lakh units last month as compared with 2.94 lakh units in July 2021. This is the highest wholesale figure we have ever seen in the industry,” MSI India Senior Director (Marketing and Sales) Shashank Srivastava told PTI.

The previous best wholesales stood at 3.34 lakh units in October 2020, he said, adding, it has been possible due to better production as chip shortage eased a bit.

The industry is expected to cross 37 lakh unit sales mark this fiscal, which is going to be the highest ever, he noted.

Another major player Hyundai Motor India said its domestic sales were at 50,500 units last month, 5.1 percent higher than 48,042 units sold in July 2021.

“With the improvement in the semiconductor situation, the passenger vehicle segment is showing positive trends riding on the green shoots of pent-up demand and customer desire towards personal mobility,” HMIL Director (Sales, Marketing & Service) Tarun Garg said.

Tata Motors posted a 57 percent increase in its domestic passenger vehicles sales at 47,505 units as compared to 30,185 units in the year-ago month. The company’s passenger electric vehicle sales also rose to 4,022 units last month from 604 units in July 2021, the company said.

Similarly, Mahindra & Mahindra reported a 33 percent increase in domestic passenger vehicles sales in July this year at 28,053 units as against 21,046 units in the same month last year, driven by its utility vehicles.

M&M’s domestic utility vehicle sales during the month were at 27,854 units, as against 20,797 units in the year-ago month, up 34 percent, while sales of cars and vans were down 20 percent at 199 units, as compared to 249 units a year ago.

“The supply chain situation continues to remain dynamic, and we are monitoring the situation closely,” M&M President, Automotive Division, Veejay Nakra said.

Kia India also reported a 47 percent increase in its wholesales to 22,022 units in July as compared to 15,016 units in July 2021.

Gradual improvement in the supply chain and continued demand for the brand is adding momentum to the company’s growth, Kia India Vice President & Head of Sales and Marketing Hardeep Singh Brar said.

Another automobile manufacturer Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) reported its highest-ever dispatches in a month at 19,693 units in July. This was 50 percent more than 13,105 units it had sold in July 2021.

Skoda Auto also reported a 44 percent increase in its wholesales at 4,447 units in July as compared to 3,080 units sold in July 2021.

“This is usually the period where big purchases are kept on hold as it’s the monsoon and deferred till the festive season kicks off. Yet, we have clocked in solid numbers on the back of our made-for-India, INDIA 2.0 cars, the Kushaq and the Slavia,” Skoda Auto India Brand Director Zac Hollis said.

Honda Cars India reported a 12 percent increase in domestic sales last month at 6,784 units.

The maker of City and Amaze also exported 2,104 units last month.

The company had reported sale of 6,055 units in the domestic market and 918 units in overseas markets in July last year.

On the other hand, MG Motor India reported a 5 percent decline in retail sales at 4,013 units in July as production impacted by supply chain constraints. The company had registered retail sales of 4,225 units in the same month last year.

Science

SpaceX Rocket With Next International Space Station Crew Enters Orbit, Including Russian Cosmonaut: All Details

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A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday. David J. Phillip/AP
By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2022

A SpaceX rocket soared into orbit from Florida on Wednesday carrying the next long-term International Space Station crew, with a Russian cosmonaut, two Americans and a Japanese astronaut flying together in a demonstration of US-Russian teamwork in space despite Ukraine war tensions.

A high-ranking official of the Russian space agency Roscosmos said shortly after the launch that the flight marked “a new phase of our cooperation” with the US space agency NASA.

The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket topped with a Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Endurance, lifted off into clear skies at noon EDT (9:30pm IST) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The two-stage, 23-story-tall Falcon 9 ascended from the launch tower as its nine Merlin engines roared to life in billowing clouds of vapor and a reddish-orange fireball.

The mission is notable for the inclusion of Anna Kikina, 38, the lone female cosmonaut on active duty with Roscosmos, making it the first spaceflight with a Russian launched from US soil in two decades. As the spacecraft entered Earth orbit, Kikina radioed her thanks to NASA, Roscosmos and their International Space Station (ISS) partners for “giving us this great opportunity.”

“We’re so glad to do it together,” Kikina said.

Kikina, who had trained in the US for the flight since spring 2021, was essentially swapping places with a NASA astronaut who took her seat aboard a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month under a new ride-sharing deal signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.

About nine minutes after Wednesday’s launch, the rocket’s upper stage delivered the Crew Dragon into a preliminary orbit as it streaked through space at nearly 16,000 miles per hour (27,000 kph). The reusable lower-stage booster flew itself back to Earth and landed safely on a drone recovery vessel at sea.

The four crew members and their autonomously flying capsule were due to reach the ISS in about 29 hours, on Thursday evening, to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbital laboratory some 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.

The mission, designated Crew-5, marks the fifth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket venture founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk began sending US astronauts aloft in May 2020.
‘Smooth ride’

The team was led by Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, who became the first Native American woman sent to orbit by NASA and the first woman to take the commander’s seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Moments after reaching orbit, as mission control wished the crew “Godspeed,” Mann radioed back, “Awesome. Thank you so much to the Falcon team. Whew! That was a smooth ride uphill.”

Mann, a U.S. Marine Corps colonel and combat fighter pilot, is also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions aimed at returning humans to the moon later this decade.

The designated pilot was Mann’s fellow spaceflight rookie Josh Cassada, 49, a U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot with a doctorate in high-energy particle physics. Rounding out the crew from Japan’s space agency JAXA was Koichi Wakata, 59, a robotics expert making his fifth voyage to space.

The team will be welcomed by seven existing ISS occupants – the Crew-4 team consisting of three Americans and an Italian astronaut – as well as two Russians and the NASA astronaut who flew with them to orbit on a Soyuz flight.

The new arrivals are set to conduct more than 200 experiments, many focused on medical research ranging from 3-D “bio-printing” of human tissue to a study of bacteria cultured in microgravity.

ISS, the length of a football field, has been continuously occupied since 2000, operated by a US-Russian-led consortium that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries. It was born in part to improve relations between Washington and Moscow following the Soviet Union’s collapse and the end of Cold War rivalries that spurred the original American-Soviet space race.

NASA-Roscosmos relations have been tested since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and US imposed sweeping sanctions against Moscow.

At a post-launch NASA-SpaceX briefing on Wednesday, Sergei Krikalev, head of human spaceflight for Roscosmos, said he and the agency chief Yuri Borisov were seeking to ease tensions after Borisov’s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, raised questions about the future of the ISS partnership.

Krikalev cited bilateral teamwork in space dating back to the Apollo-Soyuz era in 1975, saying, “We started our cooperation many years ago, over 40 years ago, and will continue our cooperation as long as I can imagine.”

The July crew-exchange deal paved the way for resuming routine joint US-Russian flights to the ISS that had begun during the space shuttle era and continued after shuttles ceased flying in 2011. From then until SpaceX began offering crewed launch services nine years later, Soyuz was the only avenue to orbit for US astronauts.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Roblox Faces Lawsuit for Enabling Minor’s Sexual, Financial Exploitation; Meta, Snap, Discord Also Targeted

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2022

Roblox has been accused of enabling a California girl’s sexual and financial exploitation by adult men, according to a lawsuit against the online gaming firm on Tuesday. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, also targets online chat company Discord, Snapchat parent Snap and Instagram parent Meta. Snap and Meta are already facing dozens of similar lawsuits.

Meta declined to comment. Roblox and Snap could not immediately be reached.

A Discord spokesperson said the company has a “zero-tolerance policy for anyone who endangers or sexualizes children” but declined to comment directly on the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, which was seen by Reuters, the minor was born in 2009 and began using Roblox when she was nine or ten years old. Roblox is popular with children under 13 but also has adult users.

Starting in early 2020, the minor came into contact with adult men through Roblox, who encouraged her to sign up for Discord, Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with them, according to the lawsuit. None of the companies required parental consent, and Discord did not verify the minor’s age even though it said it did not allow users under 13 years old, the lawsuit said.

The men exploited her by encouraging her to drink and abuse prescription drugs and send sexually explicit photos of herself, according to the lawsuit. One man allegedly persuaded her to send him money.

The minor suffered severe mental health problems leading to suicide attempts and hospitalisation as a result of her experience, the lawsuit said.

Both the minor and her mother claim the companies failed to take steps to keep minors using their platforms safe, and that Snap and Instagram encouraged addiction in children. They are seeking unspecified damages.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Spotify Acquires Content Moderation Firm Kinzen to Detect Harmful Content on the Platform

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2022

Audio-streaming service Spotify Technology on Wednesday said it had acquired Kinzen, a firm that has helped it identify harmful content on the platform.

The acquisition is part of Spotify’s efforts to deal with harmful content on its service after a backlash earlier this year over “The Joe Rogan Experience”, in which the podcaster was accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

The Dublin-based firm has been working with Spotify since 2020, initially focusing on the integrity of election-related content around the world. Since then, Kinzen’s remit has expanded to include targeting misinformation, disinformaton and hate speech.

“Kinzen offers a combination of tools and expertise to help us better understand the content on our platform and emerging abuse trends,” said Sarah Hoyle, Spotify’s head of trust and safety.

Deal terms were not disclosed.

Earlier this year, Spotify said it would be more transparent in how it determines what is acceptable and unacceptable content. It published its platform rules for the first time in January. In June, it formed a Safety Advisory Council to provide input on harmful content.

Kinzen will provide early warnings about problems in different markets, helping Spotify more effectively moderate content in more languages.

In other news, Spotify recently announced the launch of a new audiobooks service in the US. Under the new initiative, the streaming service will offer over 3,00,000 titles. Users in the US will now be able to find audiobooks as a separate section on Spotify alongside music and podcasts in their library, in search, and in their curated recommendations on the Spotify home page.

The Sweden-based company announced in a blog post that users can discover audiobooks in the Spotify app, and will be redirected to purchase them on the company’s website. Once purchased, the audiobook will remain accessible from the user’s library.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Internet

Amazon Suspends at Least 50 Workers After Employees Protested Against Fire Incident

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By Associated Press | Updated: 5 October 2022

Amazon has suspended at least 50 warehouse employees who refused to work their shifts following a trash compactor fire at one of its New York facilities, according to union organisers.

The company suspended the workers, with pay, on Tuesday, a day after the fire disrupted operations at the Staten Island warehouse that voted to unionise earlier this year.

Derrick Palmer, the Vice President of the Amazon Labor Union, said day-shift workers were sent home with pay due to the fire, which began late afternoon Monday. But night-shift employees, who were just coming in for their shift, were told to remain in a break area until management figured out the situation, he said.

Dozens of workers began to raise concerns about safety. Some were worried the air in the facility would be unsafe to breathe because of smoke from the fire. Eventually, roughly 100 workers held a sit-down protest at the facility’s main office, demanding to be sent home with pay.

“They were saying ‘we don’t feel safe, we don’t feel safe to work’,” Palmer said.

Amazon spokesperson Paul Flaningan said in a prepared statement that the company had asked all night shift employees to report to their shifts on Monday after the New York Fire Department certified the building as safe.

“While the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission,” Flaningan said. Some workers had also walked out, while others continued with the protest, according to organisers.

The suspended workers were notified by email and phone that their security badges would be inactive during the duration of the probe, Palmer said. The suspensions are in effect indefinitely as the company investigates. The number of suspended workers could rise. Seth Goldstein, an attorney for the union, said the workers intend to file unfair labour practice charges against Amazon with the National Labor Relations Board.

Amazon has filed over two dozen objections with the agency seeking to toss out the union’s April win. Meanwhile, warehouse workers at a separate facility near Albany, New York will be voting in their own union election next week.

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SpaceX to Fly Russian Cosmonaut Anna Kikina to International Space Station Amid Ukraine War

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 5 October 2022

The United States will on Wednesday carry a Russian to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX ship, in a voyage that carries symbolic significance amid the Ukraine war.

Anna Kikina, the only female cosmonaut in service, is part of the Crew-5 mission, which also includes one Japanese and two American astronauts.

Blast-off is set for noon from the Kennedy Space Center, with the weather forecast so far promising.

Two weeks ago, an American astronaut took off on a Russian Soyuz rocket for the orbital platform.

The long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite soaring tensions between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Ensuring the operation of the ISS has become one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia.

“When you each are flying other’s crew members, you know that you have a huge responsibility that you’re promising to the other country,” NASA associate administrator Kathy Lueders told reporters in a recent press conference.

“At a working level, we really appreciated the constancy in the relationship, even during some really, really tough times geopolitically.”

Fifth female cosmonaut

Kikina, 38 and an engineer by training, will become the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space.

“I hope in the near future we have more women in the cosmonaut corps,” the Novosibirsk native told AFP in August.

The Soviet Union put the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963, nearly 20 years before the first American woman Sally Ride. Since then, America has flown dozens more women.

It will also be the first spaceflight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japan’s Koichi Wakata.

After a journey of about 30 hours, their ship will dock with the station on Thursday, ready to begin a five-month science mission and relieve the four members of Crew-4, who will stay a few days for handover.

Crew-5’s arrival will bring the total number of astronauts on the ISS to 11, including two other Russians and an American who arrived on the recent Soyuz.

ISS future unclear

Kikina will be the first Russian to fly with Elon Musk’s SpaceX which, along with Boeing, has a “taxi service” contract with NASA.

Musk himself waded into the conflict Thursday by proposing a peace deal that involved re-running, under UN supervision, annexation referendums in Moscow-occupied regions of Ukraine and acknowledging Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula.

The post enraged Ukrainians, including the country’s envoy to Germany, who responded with an expletive.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington have increased considerably in the space field after the announcement of American sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry, in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia thus announced this summer that it wanted to leave the ISS “after 2024” in favor of creating its own station, albeit without setting a precise date.

The director of manned flights at Roscosmos, Sergei Krikaliov, declared Monday he hoped the Russian government agrees to extend participation in the ISS after 2024.

The United States, for its part, wants to continue operating until at least 2030, then transition to commercially run stations.

As things stand, the ISS cannot function without joint cooperation, as the US side is responsible for power and life support and the Russian side for propulsion and maintaining orbit.

Between 2011 — when the Space Shuttle program ended — and SpaceX’s first flight to the ISS in 2020, the United States was dependent on Russia for flying its crew to the station, paying tens of millions of dollars per seat.

The loss of this monopoly represents a significant income reduction for the Russian space program. The current crew exchange program, by contrast, is a barter-based agreement with no exchange of money.

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Internet

RuPay Credit Card UPI Usage: No Charge for Transactions Up to Rs. 2,000, NPCI Says

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 5 October 2022

There will be no charge for RuPay credit card use on Unified Payments Interface (UPI) for transactions up to Rs. 2,000 in line with the RBI direction, a recent NPCI circular said.

RuPay credit card has been operational for the last four years, and all major banks are enabled and are issuing incremental cards for both commercial and retail segments.

“During credit card on-boarding on the apps, the device binding and UPI PIN setting process shall include and be construed as customer consent for credit card enablement for all types of transactions,” the circular dated October 4 said.

For international transaction enablement, the existing process from the app will apply to credit cards too, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) said in the circular.

Nil Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) would apply for this category up to the transaction amount less than and equal to Rs. 2,000, it noted.

MDR is the cost paid by a merchant to a bank for accepting payment from their customers via credit or debit cards every time a card is used for payments in their stores. The merchant discount rate is expressed in the percentage of the transaction amount.

“This circular is applicable from the issuance date and members are requested to take note and bring the contents of this circular to the notice of the relevant stakeholders,” it said.

“The basic objective of linking credit cards to UPI is to provide a customer with a wider choice of payments. Currently, UPI is linked through debit cards to savings accounts or current accounts,” Reserve Bank Deputy Governor T Rabi Sankar had earlier said.

As per the circular, UPI apps would ensure complete transparency on transactions made by a customer using a credit card, by means of easily accessible transaction history and clearly visible user interface while making the payment.

Credit card issuers and apps will send appropriate notifications or communications to the customer during each event of the credit card lifecycle for such transactions, as per the circular.

The step will promote the homegrown payment gateway and encourage wider acceptance of RuPay cards.

It further said there is a need to maintain a separate mobile number attached to an add-on card.

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