China’s takeover of mega-company puts properties in U.S. and worldwide in hands of Chinese government

Chinese regulators have taken control of the Anbang Insurance Group, a privately owned Chinese conglomerate that owns New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria, temporarily putting management of the hotel and other high-profile international properties in the hands of the Chinese government. China’s insurance regulator said in a statement Friday that “there exist illegal operations at Anbang, posing threats to the company’s solvency,” adding that a group of government agencies will take control of the company’s board and management for one year. Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, has been indicted on suspicion of economic crimes, it said. Officials will “actively introduce high-quality social capital to Anbang, restructure its shareholding and keep Anbang as a private company,” the statement said. Wu was known as one of China’s “Gray Rhinos” — ambitious, politically connected tycoons whose companies incurred extraordinary debt while snapping up prestigious foreign assets — enough debt, regulators believed, to potentially destabilize the country’s financial system. Last year, the Chinese government began cracking down. Authorities detained Wu in June, and he hasn’t been heard from since. Authorities have chastened other Gray Rhino companies, which have struggled financially in recent months. HNA Group, which owns several airlines, a 25% stake of Hilton Worldwide and several tourism and logistics companies, has an estimated $90 billion in debt, and has sought to raise capital from its own employees. Dalian Wanda, a real estate giant that owns AMC Cinemas, plans to sell its last two overseas property developments, including one in Beverly Hills. “Why Anbang right now, and not HNA? I don’t know,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, research director at the China-focused J Capital Research. “Anbang hasn’t defaulted on anything, and HNA has. I think Anbang’s Continue Reading

Autos declared total loss in U.S. often sold in Bolivia’s wild marketplace

By Associated Press | | PUBLISHED: November 18, 2007 at 12:00 am | UPDATED: August 29, 2017 at 2:04 am COCHABAMBA, Bolivia – The bathtub ring of mold on the ceiling of Colleen McGaw’s Mini Cooper marks how high Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters rose inside the sporty red coupe. “There was this mold, this grossness all over it,” McGaw says, recalling how she found the car, her college graduation present, three months after the storm submerged her New Orleans neighborhood. Two years later, McGaw was shocked to learn from The Associated Press that her beloved Mini turned up 3,600 miles south in Bolivia. Its new owner is stuck with a complete overhaul at $23,000 and counting. Tens of thousands of cars were damaged or destroyed by Katrina, which submerged much of New Orleans in a corrosive broth of saltwater and mud. U.S. officials warned Americans to beware of buying the flooded cars.But many were shipped overseas, often sold through Internet salvage auctions now globalizing the auto-recycling industry. Totaled cars used to be sold mostly at local auctions to scrap-metal dealers. But in the past five years, online sales have lured shoppers around the world. It’s a Wild West marketplace, says U.S. auto insurance industry analyst Brian Sullivan. “Information is in short supply, and you have to be smart and know what you’re doing,” he says. Suspected Katrina cars have cropped up in a number of countries, but Bolivia has become a particular target. One local environmental agency believes 10,000 or more flooded U.S. cars may have ended up in the landlocked nation, drawn by loose import rules, a thriving smuggling economy and an insatiable hunger for cheap wheels. The number of vehicles on Bolivia’s few paved highways is expected to double in the next five years. McGaw’s Mini is still a long way from joining the traffic jam. Hauled south on a container ship, imported through Iquique in Chile and Continue Reading

U.S. State Department issues travel alert for all of Europe

An increased threat of terrorism was cited by the U.S. State Department in its 2017-2018 holiday travel alert for the entire continent of Europe. The State Department's Travel Alert for Europe is effective immediately and lasts until Jan. 31. It specifically noted last year's ISIS-fueled attacks at a Christmas market in Berlin and an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Eve. "While local governments continue counterterrorism operations, the Department remains concerned about the potential for future terrorist attacks," the alert reads. "U.S. citizens should always be alert to the possibility that terrorist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks with little or no warning." The warning, issued last week, also cited attacks this year. The car attacks on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, at a department store in Stockholm, and over the summer in Barcelona, as well as the April bombing on a St. Petersburg metro system and a similar incident in London several months later, were all mentioned. Rex Tillerson accused of violating child soldiers law "Extremists continue to focus on tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities as viable targets," the State Department's cautioning continues. "In addition, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, high-profile events, educational institutions, airports, and other soft targets remain priority locations for possible attacks. U.S. citizens should exercise additional vigilance in these and similar locations." The warning is the second consecutive travel alert issued by the State Department for U.S. citizens touring Europe over the holidays, citing nearly the exact same reasons and information this year, Condé Nast Traveler reported. The notice is similar to the one extended to the whole continent this summer. That alert expires on Nov. 30. Deadly shooting at Istanbul nightclub European tourism has rebounded since its initial Continue Reading

Goldman: Automated trucks to cost U.S. economy 300k jobs per year

While Google’s Waymo company has taken center stage for bringing self-driving cars to roads, autonomous trucking may make it to the mainstream first. Silicon Valley startups, technologists, and venture capitalists see great potential in the technology — even more than most traditional trucking companies are supporting.For months, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has put out teasers that the electric carmaker will soon reveal an electric semi-truck with autonomous capabilities. That announcement may take place this week, on November 16.Embark, a Silicon Valley start-up, is scheduled to release details next week on its self-driving technology for trucking. The automated system has tested in partnership with truck-leasing company Ryder and Electrolux, an appliance manufacturer. Trial runs are exploring the potential of transporting trailers to Electrolux’s California warehouses with autonomous trucks.CB Insight, which tracks venture capital, reports that companies will place about $1 billion in commercial truck autonomous systems this year, 10 times the level of spending three years ago.The $700 billion trucking industry continues to be an integral part of the U.S. economy, and that of other economic giants and developing countries around the world. With more manufacturing happening overseas in places like China, trucking is part of making sure everything from automobiles to packaged food products make it to warehouses and end users on time. More: What life will be like when the computers disappear More: 7 lessons from 2,300 miles in Cadillac's new partial self-driving car More: In a self-driving car first, ride with Waymo and there's no driver Trucking companies and giants who invest heavily in logistics — like Amazon and Walmart — see great potential in cutting costs and speeding up delivery times. That will come via cutting labor costs when truck drivers no longer become necessary, and by extending the hours that Continue Reading

Nearly half of U.S. population has data affected by Equifax breach

The social security numbers of roughly 143 million Americans — nearly half the country’s population — were exposed after a breach at credit report agency Equifax, the company said Thursday. The numbers, along with tons of other “personal identifying information” were hacked after “criminals” accessed files between May and July, according to the Atlanta-based firm. Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses and driver’s license numbers were taken, as well as the credit card numbers of 209,000 U.S. customers, in the high-tech heist. Equifax is one of the largest credit monitoring agencies in the country — tracking and rating the financial history of consumers. It follows data tied to loans, loan payments and credit cards. The company also collects information on everything from missed rent and utilities bills, child support payments, credit limits, addresses and employment history. “On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10 in terms of potential identity theft,” said Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan. “Credit bureaus keep so much data about us that affects almost everything we do.” Lenders rely on the information collected by Equifax to help them decide whether to approve financing for homes, cars and credit cards. Credit checks are even sometimes done by companies when deciding whether or not to hire potential employees. Equifax discovered the hack July 29, but waited until Thursday to warn consumers. The company declined to comment on the delay. It’s not unusual for U.S. authorities to ask a company hit in a major hack to hold off on alerting consumers so that investigators can hunt down the hackers. “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and Continue Reading

U.S. too slow to require rear seat belt warnings, lawsuit says

By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) - A new lawsuit accuses the U.S. government of being too slow to implement rules requiring that rear seat vehicle passengers be warned when they fail to buckle their seat belts. In a complaint filed on Wednesday, two nonprofits said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has done nothing to implement legislation signed in July 2012 by former President Barack Obama that required the warnings. The Center for Auto Safety, and Kids and Cars Inc, said nearly 1,000 people are killed annually in the rear seats of U.S. passenger vehicles because they do not buckle up, and proper belt usage would lower the risk of death by 44 percent. "No one disagrees that seat belts save lives," Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said in a phone interview. "We don't think the lives of people in the back seat are worth less than those in the front." The lawsuit seeks to require NHTSA, part of the Department of Transportation, to start the rulemaking process immediately and within one year implement a final rule, which was supposed to take effect by October 2015. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was also named as a defendant. Her agency had no immediate comment. Earlier this month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said 91 percent of adults claim to always buckle up in the front seat, but just 72 percent use seat belts in the back. The IIHS said one-fourth of the rear seat holdouts believed sitting in the back was safer. Smaller percentages said they did not use belts out of habit, because they forgot, or because they found belts uncomfortable or ill-fitting. According to NHTSA, 35,092 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2015, the most in seven years, but 13,941 lives were saved by seat belts. NHTSA also said seat belts saved more than 343,000 lives from 1976 to 2015, and would have saved another 368,000 had everyone worn them. New Hampshire is the only U.S. state that does Continue Reading

U.S. states could not set self-driving car rules under Republican plan

By David Shepardson WASHINGTON (Reuters) - California and other states would be barred from setting their own rules governing design and testing of self-driving cars, while federal regulators would be blocked from demanding pre-market approval for autonomous vehicle technology, according to a U.S. House Republican proposal reviewed by Reuters on Thursday. The draft legislation, while far from becoming law, still represents a victory for General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Tesla Inc and other automakers and technology companies seeking to persuade Congress and the Trump administration to pre-empt rules under consideration in California, New York and other states that could limit deployment of self-driving vehicles. The industry also opposed an Obama administration proposal last year that raised the possibility of giving regulators the power to review and approve self-driving car technology before it was put into service, similar to the vetting by Federal Aviation Administration of new technology for aircraft. The 45-page draft package of 14 bills would designate the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the lead agency for regulating self-driving cars, pre-empting state rules. States could still set insurance and registration rules but could not use them as a way to regulate self-driving technologies. California has proposed changes to its self-driving car rules, but automakers said in April it has not gone far enough. One of the bills in the proposal would allow the U.S. Transportation Department to exempt up to 100,000 vehicles per year from U.S. federal motor vehicle safety rules, which currently prevent the sale of self-driving vehicles without steering wheels, pedals and other human controls. Another would declare crash data, other testing and validation reports from automated cars turned over to U.S. regulators to be "confidential business information." U.S. Representative Bob Latta, who chairs a key panel Continue Reading

Daily Drive-Thru: Toyota, Volkswagen get ride-sharing partners, Dieselgate lawsuit on track in U.S., and more

Looking for a roundup of the latest and most important news from the automotive world? You’ve found it in the Daily Drive-Thru. Check it out every weekday to see what you missed and what you need to know. FOLLOW DAILY NEWS AUTOS ON FACEBOOK. 'LIKE' US HERE. Love is in the air in the automotive technology world. Toyota and Uber are the latest power couple There’s a new couple in the automotive tech world: Toyota and Uber. The Japanese automaker has bought a small share of the Silicon Valley ride-hailing company and has agreed to lease vehicles to Uber drivers with the understanding that they’ll use some of their revenue to cover monthly car payments. It’s not clear how much capital Toyota plans to invest in Uber, but at the moment both sides are treating the alliance as a sort of pilot program, according to Bloomberg. The Toyota-Uber partnership follows similar alliances between General Motors and Lyft, in which GM invested half a billion dollars into Uber’s top domestic competitor. The two companies already have plans to release a fleet of autonomous Bolt cabs as early as next year. Source:Bloomberg Volkswagen gets a ride-sharing partner too Not to be left going stag, Volkswagen has also partnered up with a ride-sharing company. The two big American ride-hailing apps are already spoken for, but the German automaker found a willing partner in Israel, namely the Tel Aviv-based Gett startup. Gett, formerly known as GetTaxi, is in 60 cities worldwide, including New York City, but its biggest market base is in Europe. Gett hangs its hat on being time-efficient and more affordable than Uber by cutting out surge pricing during high-traffic hours. Volkswagen has committed $300 million the startup. Source:Volkswagen VW, U.S. close to deal over Dieselgate Speaking of Volkswagen, the automaker is nearing a settlement Continue Reading

U.S. government issues counterfeit air bag warning

Car owners whose air bags have been replaced in the past three years may have had dangerous counterfeit bags installed, the Obama administration warned Wednesday. Only 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet is believed to be affected, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement. But industry officials briefed by the government said tens of thousands of car owners may be driving vehicles with counterfeit air bags. NHTSA testing has shown most of the counterfeit bags don't inflate or fail to inflate properly. In at least one case, a counterfeit bag fired shards of metal shrapnel on impact, the agency said. NHTSA is asking car owners to check a government website,, for information on how to contact a call center established by auto manufacturers to learn if their vehicle model is among those for which counterfeit air bags are known to have been made. No deaths or injuries have been tied to the counterfeit bags, NHTSA said. But it's unclear whether police accident investigators would be able to identify a counterfeit bag from a genuine one, industry officials said. NHTSA has compiled a list of dozens of vehicle makes and models for which counterfeit air bags may be available, but the agency cautioned that the full scope of the problem isn't clear yet and the list is expected to "evolve over time." If a car is on the list and has had its air bags replaced during the past three years by a repair shop other than a new car dealership, NHTSA is asking owners to bring the vehicle into a dealership to be inspected at their own expense to determine whether the replaced air bags are counterfeit. Fees for checking out air bags could run $100 or more, industry officials said. Some types of cars have as many as eight air bags. The counterfeit bags typically have been made to look like air bags made by automakers and usually include a manufacturer's logo. Government investigators believe many of the bags come from China, an Continue Reading

Rising sea levels torment Norfolk, Va., and coastal U.S.

NORFOLK, Va. — One block from the beach on the narrow Willoughby Spit, Bob Parsons was watching the weather news on TV in November 2009 when brackish water suddenly oozed up through the wood floors of his home and poured in from the front and back doors.He and his wife, Carole, lugged filing cabinets and a restored wingback chair upstairs but didn't have time to move the car, parked on the street-turned-waterway, The car was totaled, and the house needed thousands of dollars' worth of repairs. Since that nor'easter, known as Nor'Ida, two others have pummeled their 1953 home, rendering it a "severe repetitive loss property."So next year, a crew will jack it up 5 feet. Parsons will receive federal funds to cover at least 75% of the cost, likely to top $100,000. "It might exceed the value of my house," says the retired carpenter, adding it might have made more sense for the government to pay him to leave.Others aren't as lucky. They can't afford to move or rebuild, and they don't qualify for a subsidized lift because their home's flood damage was less than half its worth. "I have a mortgage on the house, and I ethically can't sell it," says Jennifer Priest, a mom of three whose modest rambler one block from the Lafayette River has flooded often enough that she's now on a first-name basis with her insurance adjuster.Flooding has become so common in this city, where water is the lifeblood, that residents talk about it in the supermarket. Home to the world's largest naval base, Norfolk sits on flat land — much of it filled-in marsh that's now at sea level and sinking. Add to that the sea-level rise from global warming, and the city faces what it deems a $1 billion-plus problem.As the 10th part of its year-long series on climate change, USA TODAY traveled to Virginia's picturesque Tidewater region — bound by creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay — to look at how rising sea levels are affecting America's coastal communities, where more than a third Continue Reading