Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

General view of participants attending the Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin on Jan. 19, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2021

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

  • The meeting is held at the foreign ministry in Berlin
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those expected to attend, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections that are due to be held on Dec. 24 and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas, who met Libya’s transitional prime minister and foreign minister on Tuesday evening. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Libya descended into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.


Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

Updated 7 min 4 sec ago

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

  • ‘Prices and technology are among the factors behind rise in popularity’

DUBAI, RIYADH, JEDDAH: A decade ago, if you would have asked a Saudi whether he would consider buying a Chinese car, the answer most likely would have been no, but this has now changed.

Saudi Arabia is emerging as one of the most attractive markets overseas for Chinese car brands as they grab the attention of dealers and drivers in the Kingdom.

Car sales in China, the world’s biggest market, were down 3 percent year-on-year to 2.13 million in May, ending a streak of 13 months of growth, mainly due to a global chip shortage and increased raw material prices. Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

Mohammed Ramady, an independent economist and former professor of finance and economics at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, believes Chinese cars are proving popular because they appeal to medium- and lower-income families. He said the data showed that last year, around one in 10 Chinese cars were shipped to Saudi Arabia. A clear example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand. According to sales data compiled by Bestsellingcarsblog.com, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

Similarly, data from Google showed that searches for the term Changan increased nearly 50 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2021, peaking in January when the brand opened its service center in Riyadh. 

Riyadh-based Wafi Al-Ghanim, marketing communication manager at Almajdouie Changan, the official distributor of the brand in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News there are three reasons the brand has quickly proved so successful: “Prices, quality, and warranty periods.”

“When you think about quality and specifications compared to the price in the car sector, you will definitely find that Chinese cars are far ahead of their counterparts in general, Japanese and Korean cars in particular,” Al-Ghanim said.

Looking to the future, he believes that Chinese cars across the board will continue to see strong growth and by 2022 will have captured 15 percent of the Saudi market, which “in a huge regional market is very good.”

One of the ways to boost sales is physical visibility. In January, Almajdouie built a 2,640-square-meter service center in Riyadh.

“We have had to raise the level of our services to match the high level of Changan cars, as well as to enhance the growing demand for Changan cars in the local market,” Yousef bin Ali Almajdouie, president of Almajdouie Group, said in a press statement at the time.

A report by the China Daily newspaper estimated that around 55,000 Changan cars have been sold in Saudi Arabia up to May this year, but it is not the only Chinese brand that has captured the attention of drivers in the Kingdom.

FASTFACTS

• Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

• According to data, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

• An example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand.

Hongqi, one of China’s oldest luxury car brands, this month opened its first sales center in Riyadh, with plans to expand the network to Jeddah and Dammam.

“The market in the Middle East is key for Hongqi. And the Saudi market is crucial in the region,” Ma Zhenduo, general manager of Hongqi’s Middle East division, told Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. “The sales have exceeded all our expectations across all the models,” said Mohammed Abduljawad, chairman of Universal Motors Agencies, Hongqi’s local partner in Saudi Arabia.

Hatem Khattab, the first marketing manager for FAW Bestune in Saudi Arabia, which sells the Chinese brands FAW, Bestune and Hongqi, told Arab News that the secret to the success of Chinese brands was the combination of price and technology.

“The manufacturers are very good at incorporating the latest technology in their cars. These are economic cars with state-of-the-art technology,” Khattab said. “The reason behind their popularity is their features, and now that they are seen more commonly on the streets, it has had a domino effect. Seeing the cars makes people think they are more reliable. They are affordable as well; we recently had a customer who bought 10 cars just for his family,” he added.

In addition to increased visibility on the roads, Khattab pointed out that Chinese brands also offer more options in terms of the range of models on offer.

“The competition in the automotive market here is huge, and I feel like the Chinese brands stepped up their game to meet the requirement of this cut-throat market. Currently, in Saudi Arabia, we have almost 20-25 Chinese brands as compared to brands of other countries that offer up to 10,” he said. Ramady said engine size was another big catalyst. Western, American, Japanese and South Korean models in the 2,500 to 3,000 cc engine sector still dominate the market, Chinese brands have positioned themselves in the 1,000 to 2,000 cc engine range, which is a growing segment in Saudi Arabia. He believes these models appeal “to a low to middle-income Saudi consumer market, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainties, as well as a new niche market for Saudi female drivers owning their first cars.”

The statistics also back this up, according to Motory.com, one of the largest specialized car websites in Saudi Arabia. “Over the last few years, we have seen Chinese cars become increasingly popular with consumers, especially in Saudi Arabia. Online searches for Chinese cars on our Motory.com website have increased by around 400 percent between 2018 and 2020,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

Chinese carmakers saw exports increase by 103 percent year-on-year in the first five months of this year, according to a report by the South China Morning Post, citing data from the China Passenger Car Association. The way trends are going, many will find their way into Saudi garages and carparks, as the Kingdom continues to be a dominant source market. Fahad Al-Arjani, a member of the Saudi Chinese Business Council, echoed the view that technology was at the key factor, as Chinese brands have been “injecting investments in clean energy cars supported by the smartest technologies.” He pointed to the partnership between technology giant Huawei and the state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., Ltd. (BAIC) as an example.

“In addition to developing a highly efficient battery system, as well as emerging technologies, Huawei and BAIC’s first car will offer level three autonomous driving and will include 5G connectivity, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the Chinese company is a leader when it comes to the rollout of this new standard, which will make Chinese cars highly likely to lead the future of this sector for ages,” he told Arab News.


Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut

Updated 35 min 38 sec ago

Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut

  • PIF is believed to hold more than 60 percent of the stock after its 2018 cash injection into the start-up, giving it a paper profit of at least $15 billion

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has already made billions of dollars in profit on its investment in Lucid Motors, the California upmarket electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, and could earn many billions more over the next five years.

PIF announced its first investment of SR3.75 billion ($1 billion) in Lucid in September 2018.

The sovereign wealth fund congratulated Lucid on its market debut and said on Twitter: “Our investment in Lucid Motors and the production of Lucid Air is a key step in the strategy for long term growth opportunities, supporting innovation and technology development, and doing revenue and sectoral diversification in Saudi Arabia.” Shares in Lucid raced to an 11 percent premium on the opening day of trading on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday, valuing it at more than $24 billion.  

PIF is believed to hold more than 60 percent of the stock after its 2018 cash injection into the start-up, giving it a paper profit of at least $15 billion.

This could go significantly higher if Lucid follows the model of rival EV maker Tesla. Elon Musk’s high-flying company reported better than forecast profits earlier this week, and saw its share price leap 2 percent, giving it a market value of $633 billion.

Lucid is at a much earlier stage of the EV road, but projections made by its management foresee a big rise in sales and profits ahead.

The company sees revenues of $2.2 billion next year after it has begun selling cars in substantial numbers, rising to $22.8 billion in 2026. By then, it will be selling 250,000 cars a year, making a profit of nearly $3 billion and generating free cash of $1.5 billion, according to the forecasts.

Peter Rawlinson, CEO and CTO of Lucid Group, who was a former chief engineer at Tesla, said that the company was “on track” to meet its projections after the Nasdaq debut.

“Lucid Air (the launch model) represents the next generation of electric vehicles and creates new standards for interior comfort, range, efficiency, and power,” Rawlinson said. 

“We are on track to meet our projected deliveries for the next two years, and we look forward to delighting our customers around the world with the best electric vehicles ever created.”

Lucid is likely to face more intense competition in the EV space than Tesla did when it launched its first model more than a decade ago, with other “legacy” manufacturers across the world launching electric products.

But Rawlinson is confident that superior design will give it an edge in the premium market segment. 

“We have got the best car in the world,” he told Arab News earlier this year.

Success for Lucid will be a big boost for PIF’s investment strategy, but it could also have significant industrial and commercial implications for the Kingdom. Lucid is likely to open a showroom in Saudi Arabia and there has been intensifying speculation that it will eventually build a production plant in the Kingdom, too.

Rawlinson said of PIF: “They put their faith in us, that is why we are here today thriving.”


Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments

Updated 27 July 2021

Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments

  • The electric carmaker’s balance sheet for the second quarter of 2021 showed a net digital asset value of $1.311 billion as of June 30

RIYADH: Bitcoin traded higher on Tuesday, rising 0.55 percent to $38,379.02 at 5:02 p.m. Riyadh time. Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was down 1.3 percent to $2,298.85, according to data from CoinDesk.

Below is the latest cryptocurrency news:

Amazon has denied a British newspaper report that it plans to accept bitcoin payments this year. “Notwithstanding our interest in the space, the speculation that has ensued around our specific plans for cryptocurrencies is not true,” an Amazon spokesperson said on Monday. “We remain focused on exploring what this could look like for customers shopping on Amazon.”

According to a report from Bloomberg, the popular stablecoin Tether is under criminal investigation by the US Justice Department. Prosecutors are looking into whether Tether’s executives committed bank fraud, a development with potentially seismic consequences for the broader crypto market. Tether released a statement saying that the Bloomberg report follows a pattern of repackaging old claims as news, but did not deny awareness of the pending charges, according to CoinDesk.

Goldman Sachs is liquidating and settling cryptocurrency traded products for some of its hedge fund clients in Europe, it was reported last week. The investment banking giant has submitted an application to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that would showcase public companies in decentralized finance and blockchain around the world. The filing indicated that the fund plans to invest at least 80 percent of its assets in companies that are developing blockchain technology and digitizing funding. The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently reviewing more than a dozen Bitcoin ETF applications and has approved decisions on several of them, CoinDesk reported.

Tesla released its second quarter earnings report on Monday. The electric carmaker’s balance sheet for the second quarter of 2021 showed a net digital asset value of $1.311 billion as of June 30. It also showed that Tesla owns $1.311 billion in bitcoin. The company did not buy or sell any bitcoin during the second quarter, but it did report a bitcoin depreciation of $23 million. Tesla’s action reaffirms Musk’s prior statement that neither he nor Tesla had sold their coins, according to Bitcoin News.

A survey conducted by the cryptocurrency exchange of the Independent Reserve Asia Pacific found that 43 percent of respondents said they own cryptocurrency, while 46 percent plan to purchase digital assets in the next 12 months.

The survey of 1,000 Singaporeans from a representative background of gender, age and location, also found that two-thirds of respondents in the 26-45 age group said they own cryptocurrency. Nearly 40 percent of respondents described bitcoin as an investment asset and 25 percent described it as a store of value. Three-quarters of respondents aged between 26 and 35 said they believe that cryptocurrency will become more widely accepted. Singapore’s financial authorities have confirmed that they are working with their French counterparts to explore cross-border applications of central bank digital currencies, according to a report by Cointelegraph.


Man Utd agree deal to sign Real Madrid’s Varane

Updated 27 July 2021

Man Utd agree deal to sign Real Madrid’s Varane

  • Varane will undergo a medical until next week because of current UK coronavirus restrictions
  • British media reported value the deal at £34 million ($47 million) rising to £48 million with add-ons

LONDON: Manchester United have agreed a deal with Real Madrid to sign France center-back Raphael Varane, the Premier League giants announced Tuesday.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce the club has reached agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of French international defender and World Cup winner, Raphael Varane, subject to a medical and to player terms being finalized,” said a club statement.
It is not expected, however, that Varane will be able to undergo a medical until next week because of current UK coronavirus restrictions.
No fee has been disclosed but British media reported value the deal at £34 million ($47 million) rising to £48 million with add-ons.
The 28-year-old Varane, a 2018 World Cup winner, has one season left on his contact at the Santiago Bernabeu.
He moved from French club Lens to Madrid in 2011 and has since made 360 appearances across all competitions for Madrid, winning 18 major honors — including four Champions League titles.
In a statement, Real — confirming they had agreed a fee with United — acknowledged Varane’s time in the Spanish capital by saying: “Our club thanks the player for his professionalism and exemplary conduct throughout his ten seasons representing our colors, during which time he has won 18 titles: 4 Champions Leagues, 4 Club World Cups, 3 European Super Cups, 3 LaLiga titles, 1 Copa del Rey and 3 Spanish Super Cups.
“Real Madrid would like to express their gratitude to Raphaël Varane and his family and wish him the best of luck in this new stage of his career.”
Should his move to Old Trafford be completed, Varane would find himself vying for a place in the center of United’s defense with club captain Harry Maguire, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof.
United finished second in last season’s Premier League but were a huge 12 points adrift of title-winners and local rivals Manchester City in the race to be crowned champions of England.
The Red Devils have not won a major trophy since the 2017 Europa League, with United’s last Premier League title success coming in celebrated manager Alex Ferguson’s final season before retirement eight years ago.


Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Updated 27 July 2021

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

  • Boko Haram attack kills five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian
  • The attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said

YAOUNDE: An attack by Boko Haram killed five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian, according to a defense ministry statement on state radio Tuesday.
The attack took place on Monday night in the far north of the central African country near the border with Nigeria, where operations by the Islamist group have been on the rise, reported AFP.
Meanwhile, Reuters said the attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said on Tuesday, the second deadly raid in the area in the past week.
An army post in the village of Zigue was attacked at around 9 p.m. (20:00 GMT) on Monday, according to two officials who asked not to be identified.
The attack follows a raid that took place around 50 km (30 miles) north of Zigue on Saturday, which was claimed by Daesh. Eight soldiers were killed in that raid, according to the defense ministry.
Cameroon, alongside neighboring Nigeria and Chad, has been battling the Boko Haram militant group for years, but more recently has clashed with fighters who identify themselves as Daesh West African Province (DWAP).
In the aftermath of the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May, DWAP has sought to absorb Boko Haram fighters and unify the groups which had hitherto fought one another for control of territory.

With AFP and Reuters.