Tesla scouts for showroom space in India – Sources

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tesla Inc is scouting for locations to open showrooms in three Indian cities and has hired an executive to lead its lobbying and business efforts ahead of its planned entry into the country, sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

The electric-car maker in January registered a local company in India, where it is expected to import and sell the Model 3 sedan by as early as mid-2021, seeking to target rich customers in a niche market.

The world’s most valuable automaker by market capitalisation is looking for commercial properties as large as 20,000-30,000 square feet each to open showrooms and service centres in the capital New Delhi, financial hub Mumbai in the west and tech city Bengaluru in the south, three sources said.

Separately, Tesla has recruited Manuj Khurana, a former executive of India’s investment promotion body Invest India, in the first major hire to lead its policy and business development efforts in the country, two other sources said.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment, while Khurana declined to comment.

In October, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter the company will enter India in 2021 “for sure”, though the billionaire had issued similar tweets in the past.

The search for showroom space and Khurana’s appointment signal Tesla is moving faster.

Global property consultant CBRE Group Inc – hired for the showroom searches by Tesla – has been surveying places for several weeks and is focussing on locations which will give the company easier access to affluent customers, sources said.

Some luxury car showrooms in upmarket areas of metro cities are typically between 8,000-10,000 square feet, but most showrooms are far smaller in India where high-end real estate space is usually in short supply and property prices in New Delhi and Mumbai are among the highest in the world.

“If you look at Tesla’s showrooms globally, they are like experience centres. It would look at replicating that with some modifications for the Indian market,” said one of the sources, all of whom declined to be identified as the talks are private.

CBRE said it does not comment “on work we may be doing on behalf of our clients”.

Khurana has previously been on a government panel on the future of transportation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top scientific adviser. In his new role, he is also handling Tesla’s market-entry process in India, two sources said.

But India isn’t likely to be an easy market to crack for Tesla.

The country has negligible charging infrastructure and high taxes on imported cars, as well as low adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

India recorded just 5,000 EV sales out of the total 2.4 million cars sold last year, while in China new energy vehicle sales touched 1.25 million.

However, analysts say India’s rising number of affluent consumers makes it a market the automaker can’t ignore as the government increases its focus on promoting clean cars.

While Tesla plans to import cars at first, India’s road minister told Reuters last month that the government is ready to offer incentives to ensure the carmaker’s production cost would be less than in China if it commits to local manufacturing.

India court dismisses ByteDance’s plea to unblock bank accounts

MUMBAI (Reuters) – An Indian court on Tuesday dealt a blow to China’s ByteDance by dismissing its plea to unblock its bank accounts which have been frozen by federal authorities investigating alleged tax evasion.

An Indian tax intelligence agency in mid-March ordered HSBC and Citibank in Mumbai to freeze accounts of ByteDance India as it probed some of the firm’s financial dealings. ByteDance challenged the move in court saying the freeze amounts to harassment and was done illegally.

After a government counsel said ByteDance owed the authorities about 790 million rupees ($11 million), the High Court in Mumbai said the company will need to keep that amount blocked in a state-run bank.

That “account will be frozen”, the two-judge bench said.

Akshay Kumar: Bollywood star in hospital with Covid

Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has been hospitalised a day after testing positive for Covid-19.

The actor said he was doing fine but decided to get admitted as a “precautionary measure under medical advice”.

Many crew members of the film he was working on in Mumbai city have also tested positive. 

Several Indian states have reported a sharp increase in Covid-19 case numbers in recent weeks.

The western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located, has been the biggest contributor to the surge. India on Sunday breached the the 100,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began in March last year. Maharashtra alone accounted for 57,000 new cases on Sunday. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The state has announced several new limitations to curb the spread but infections continue to rise, affecting Bollywood and several other industries.

A number of popular actors, including Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Alia Bhatt and Kartik Aaryan, have tested positive in the past few days. Legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is being treated at a hospital after testing positive – his condition is said to be stable.

The future of the cash-rich Indian Premiere League cricket tournament is also in doubt. It’s due to start on 9 April and Mumbai is slated to host a number of matches.

Officials at the Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) say the tournament will go ahead but fans will not be allowed inside stadiums. 

Indian spinner Axar Patel and support staff of different teams have already tested positive.

The recent surge comes after a sharp drop in India’s Covid caseload. In January, India was reporting less than 15,000 cases daily. But numbers began to spike again in March, largely driven by poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols.

Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12.2 million cases and over 163,000 deaths. It now has the third-highest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil. But its number of deaths per capita is far lower.

Source: BBC

Google payments chief quits after 15 years at company

(Reuters) – Senior Google executive Caesar Sengupta, head of the tech giant’s payment initiatives, said on Monday he was leaving the company next month, after 15 years.

“I remain very positive about Google’s future but it’s time for me to see if I can ride without training wheels,” Sengupta, vice president and general manager of payments and the ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative, said in a LinkedIn post here.

He was also one of the key people behind the launch and success of Google Pay in India and helped the payment app’s relaunch in the U.S. and Singapore. The payment facility is now used by over 150 million users in 30 countries.

“My last day at Google will be April 30th. I haven’t decided what I will start next,” said Sengupta, who is based in Singapore.

“…Through his time at Google, Caesar has played a key role in starting, building and leading initiatives such as ChromeOS, Next Billion Users and Google Pay. We are excited to see what he builds next and wish him the best in his new journey,” a Google Spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Covid-19: Mumbai to rollout random testing in crowded places

The Indian city of Mumbai is to rollout rapid coronavirus tests in crowded places as the country grapples with a rise in infections.

The city’s local government said people would be tested randomly in an order issued on Saturday.

A refusal to be tested would “amount to an offence” under an 1897 epidemic law, the order said.

The move came as India recorded 40,953 new cases on Saturday, the biggest daily jump for nearly four months.

India has recorded more than 11.5 million coronavirus infections and 159,000 deaths related to the disease.

Infections have been steadily climbing for weeks as the country scrambles to vaccinate its population and identify highly contagious variants of the disease.

In Mumbai, a coronavirus hotspot in the western state of Maharashtra, 2,982 people have contracted the disease in the past 24 hours.

How will the tests work?

The rapid tests will be mandatory in crowded places such as shopping centres and train stations from 22 March, city officials said.

The commissioner of the local authority told India Today that people should “be ready for the swab test” whenever they enter a busy area in Mumbai.

The local authority said it would use rapid antigen tests (RATs), a type of test that detects the presence of proteins unique to the coronavirus.

But research shows these tests are less reliable than other types and sometimes produce incorrect results.

What’s the coronavirus situation in India?

India has recorded the third-highest number of infections, and the fourth-highest number of deaths, of any country in the world.

Infections started to dip at the start of 2021, but doctors have blamed a fresh wave on poor adherence to restrictions.

Chart showing the countries in Asia with the highest average number of cases in the last week. Updated 19 March

In recent weeks Maharashtra, which has long been a virus hotspot, has accounted for the majority of new infections.

Seven other states – including Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – are also reporting a resurgence of Covid-19.

Some regions in India have brought back restrictions, including lockdowns and restaurant closures, while more are believed to be considering similar moves.

How is the vaccination programme going?

The vaccination drive began in January in India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people.

More than 40 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine so far.

The rollout is currently targeting elderly people and those with underlying health conditions, but it is expected to expand further soon.

vaccine doses

The government aims to use up to 500 million doses to cover 250 million “priority people” by the end of July.

Although the pace of vaccination has picked up, experts say unless the drive is scaled up the target could be missed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 70, received a dose on 1 March. After receiving the jab, he urged people to take the vaccine when their turn comes.

Covid-19: India reports record daily rise in new infections

India has recorded its highest single-day spike this year on Monday, with 26,110 new coronavirus cases reported in the last 24 hours. 

The western state of Maharashtra, which has long been a virus hotspot, accounts for more than half the new infections. 

India’s caseload began to dip at the start of 2021, but poor adherence to Covid safety norms seems to be driving a fresh surge in several states. 

India has so far recorded more than 11 million Covid cases and 158,000 deaths. 

India records highest single-day spike this year
image captionIndia records highest single-day spike this year

Scientists are on the hunt for new variants amid fears that they could be one of the reasons for the uptick.

The other is laxity in following Covid-19 safety protocols. Lack of masking and social distancing, and poor test and trace have all added to the spike in Maharashtra, Dr Sanjay Oak, a member of the state’s Covid task force, told the BBC recently.

The latest spike comes early on in India’s vaccination drive, which began in January. Nearly 30 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine so far. 

The rollout is currently targeting elderly people and those with co-morbidities, but is expected to expand further soon. 

The government in Maharashtra put Nagpur district, which has the country’s second-highest active caseload, under lockdown last week. It was the second lockdown in the state, which currently has the highest number of active and confirmed cases in India.

Other districts have followed with restrictions such as night curfews and closure of markets to stem the rise in cases.

Six other states – Kerala, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh – are also reporting a surge in infections.

Indian agency seeks information, documents from Amazon amid probe: Source

India’s Enforcement Directorate has recently asked Amazon.com Inc for information related to its operations in the country, as the agency continues to investigate the U.S. e-commerce giant, a senior agency source told Reuters on Friday.

Last month, the source at the country’s federal financial-crime fighting agency said the Directorate will examine the findings in a recent Reuters special report which revealed the company has for years given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers on its India platform and used them to circumvent the country’s foreign investment rules.

Amazon has for several years been under investigation by the agency for possible violation of foreign investment rules. Such probes typically take years in India, and in most cases details are not made public.

The Reuters special report was based on internal Amazon documents dated between 2012 and 2019. It provided an inside look at the cat-and-mouse game Amazon has played with India’s government, adjusting its corporate structures each time the government imposed new restrictions aimed at protecting small traders. To read the special report click reut.rs/2OCOT2W

On Friday, the senior Enforcement Directorate source told Reuters “obviously we have sought information” from Amazon.

Asked if the agency had sought documents from the company, the source said: “information means information and documents.”

The source declined to comment further on what type of documents had been sought, or if any company executive had been summoned for questioning.

An Amazon spokeswoman in India declined to comment.

In the Reuters report published last month, Amazon said it was confident of its compliance with Indian law. It added that it “does not give preferential treatment to any seller on its marketplace,” and that it “treats all sellers in a fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner.”

Indian retailers, which are a crucial part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support base, have long alleged that e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart flout federal regulations and that their business practices hurt small traders. The companies deny the allegations.

The documents reviewed by Reuters showed that Amazon helped a small number of sellers prosper on its India platform, giving them discounted fees and helping one cut special deals with big tech manufacturers such as Apple Inc.

The company has also exercised significant control over the inventory of some of the biggest sellers on Amazon.in, the documents showed, even though it says publicly that all sellers operate independently on its platform.

Apple starts iPhone 12 assembly in India

Apple Inc has started the assembly of iPhone 12 in India, the U.S. tech giant said, as the company ramps up manufacturing operations in the world’s second-biggest smartphone market.

“We are proud to be starting production of iPhone 12 in India for our local customers,” Apple said in a statement on Thursday, without naming the supplier making the smartphone.

The Indian unit of Apple’s Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn will assemble the device in its plant in southern Tamil Nadu state, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously said it does not comment on client-specific work.

Apple has been shifting some areas of production from China to other markets as it navigates the trade war between Washington and Beijing. A person familiar with the matter said in November Foxconn is moving some iPad and MacBook assembly to Vietnam from China at its request.

Cupertino, California-headquartered Apple has bet big on India since it begin iPhone assembly in the country in 2017 via another Taiwanese supplier, Wistron.

Foxconn, Wistron and a third supplier Pegatron have together committed roughly $900 million over five years to make iPhones in India, leveraging New Delhi’s $6.7 billion plan to boost smartphone exports.

Apple is also planning to bring the assembly of its iPad tablet to India, Reuters reported last month.

“Nice to see our efforts to make India a big hub of mobile and components manufacturing is attracting global attention,” India’s technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted following news of iPhone 12 production in India.

Covishield and Covaxin: What we know about India’s Covid-19 vaccines

India’s Covaxin, the homegrown government-backed vaccine, has an efficacy rate of 81%, preliminary data from its phase 3 trial shows.

An Indian Health official displays a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, at the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Bhopal , India,16 January 2021

India’s regulators gave the vaccine an emergency approval in January while the third phase of the trial was still under way, sparking scepticism and questions from experts.

Bharat Biotech, the vaccine’s manufacturer, said the latest findings were “an important milestone in vaccine discovery, for science and our fight against coronavirus”. 

“With today’s results from our phase 3 clinical trials, we have now reported data on our Covid-19 vaccine from phase 1, 2, and 3 trials involving around 27,000 participants,” the firm said.

The drug regulator has also given the green light to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, to be used.

The country launched its vaccine drive, the world’s largest inoculation effort, in early January. It has vaccinated more than 20 million people so far – healthcare and frontline workers were given priority in the first phase. People over 60 and those who are between 45 and 59 but have other illnesses are now getting vaccinated.

The government aims to cover 300 million “priority people” by the end of July. But experts say that the pace of vaccination has been slow and unless the drive is scaled up, the target could be missed.

India is also supplying the vaccine to neighbouring countries and a host of other nations. It has shipped tens of thousands of free doses of Covid-19 vaccines to several countries in what is being widely described as “vaccine diplomacy”.

The country is a vaccine powerhouse: it makes 60% of the world’s vaccines and is home to half a dozen major manufacturers.

So what do we know about India’s vaccines?

How does Covaxin work?

Bharat Biotech, a 24-year-old vaccine maker, has a portfolio of 16 vaccines and it exports to 123 countries.

Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine which means that it is made up of killed coronaviruses, making it safe to be injected into the body. Bharat Biotech used a sample of the coronavirus, isolated by India’s National Institute of Virology.

When administered, immune cells can still recognise the dead virus, prompting the immune system to make antibodies against the pandemic virus.

A Covaxin vaccine vial
image captionBharat Biotech is a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company

The two doses are given four weeks apart. The vaccine can be stored at 2C to 8C.

Bharat Biotech says it has a stockpile of 20 million doses of Covaxin, and is aiming to make 700 million doses out of its four facilities in two cities by the end of the year.

What was the controversy around Covaxin?

It all began when the regulator in January said the vaccine had been approved for “restricted use in emergency situations in public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, especially in the context of infection by mutant strains”. 

Experts wondered how a vaccine was cleared for emergency use by millions of vulnerable people when its trials were still underway. The All India Drug Action Network at the time said that it was “baffled to understand the scientific logic” to approve “an incompletely studied vaccine”. It said that there were “intense concerns arising from the absence of the efficacy data”.

Both the manufacturer and drug regulator had defended Covaxin, saying it was “safe and provides a robust immune response”. 

Bharat Biotech had said that Indian clinical trial laws allowed “accelerated” authorisation for use of drugs after the second phase of trials for “unmet medical needs of serious and life-threatening diseases in the country”. It had promised to provide efficacy data for the vaccine by February, which it has now done.

What about Covishield?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. It says it is producing more than 50 million doses a month.

The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees. It has been modified to look more like coronavirus – although it can’t cause illness.

Covishield vaccine
image captionThe Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India

When the vaccine is injected into a patient, it prompts the immune system to start making antibodies and primes it to attack any coronavirus infection.

The jab is administered in two doses given between four and 12 weeks apart. It can be safely stored at temperatures of 2C to 8C, about the same as a domestic refrigerator, and can be delivered in existing health care settings such as doctors’ surgeries.

This makes it easier to distribute than some of the other vaccines. 

The jab developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, which is currently being administered in several countries, must be stored at -70C and can only be moved a limited number of times – a particular challenge in India, where summer temperatures can reach 50C.

How effective is Covishield?

International clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine showed that when people were given a half dose and then a full dose, effectiveness hit 90%.

But there was not enough clear data to approve the half-dose, full-dose idea.

However, unpublished data suggests that leaving a longer gap between the first and second doses increases the overall effectiveness of the jab – in a sub-group given the vaccine this way it was found to be 70% effective after the first dose.

Graphic

Serum Institute (SII), the Indian makers of the vaccine, say Covishield is “highly effective” and backed by phase III trial data from Brazil and United Kingdom. Clinical trials are a three-phased process to determine whether the vaccine induces good immune responses and whether it causes any unacceptable side-effects. 

But patients’ rights group, All India Drug Action Network, says its approval has been rushed because the manufacturer has not completed a “bridging study” of the vaccine on Indians. 

The company has said it will try to conduct the bridging trial of the vaccine in India in February. Some experts say there is no reason to suspect that it won’t work as well, given that the clinical trials already completed did include a range of ages and ethnicities.

Any other vaccine candidates?

The other candidates which are in different stages of trials in India to test safety and efficacy include:

  • ZyCov-Di, being developed by Ahmedabad-based Zydus-Cadila
  • A vaccine being developed by Hyderabad-based Biological E, the first Indian private vaccine-making company, in collaboration with US-based Dynavax and Baylor College of Medicine
  • HGCO19, India’s first mRNA vaccine made by Pune-based Genova in collaboration with Seattle-based HDT Biotech Corporation, using bits of genetic code to cause an immune response
  • A nasal vaccine by Bharat BioTech
  • The Sputnik V vaccine candidate developed by Dr Reddy’s Lab and Gamaleya National Centre in Russia
  • A second vaccine being developed by Serum Institute of India and American vaccine development company Novavax

Which countries are signing up for India’s vaccines?

India has so far shipped 57 million doses of vaccines to 64 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. The recipient countries include UK, Canada, Brazil and Mexico. 

Both Covishield and Covaxin have been exported so far – some in the form of “gifts”, others in line with commercial agreements signed between the vaccine makers and the recipient nations, and the rest under the Covax scheme, which is led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year.

The foreign ministry says India will continue to supply vaccines all over the world after taking into account domestic requirements and international demands and obligations.

Source: BBC

Indian mobile retailers call for Amazon probe – Cap on online smartphone sales

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian trade group representing 150,000 mobile phone stores on Monday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to investigate Amazon’s business practices in the country and impose a daily cap on a single seller’s online smartphone sales.

In a letter sent to Modi, the group cited a Reuters special report published last month that revealed Amazon has for years given preferential treatment to a small group of sellers on its Indian platform, using them to circumvent the country’s strict foreign investment regulations.

The report was based on internal Amazon documents dated between 2012 and 2019. To read the special report click reut.rs/2OCOT2W

“We were already aware of Amazon’s thought process and strategy,” the All India Mobile Retailers Association (AIMRA) wrote in the letter. The documents, the letter said, “have revealed that Amazon is doing business in India with the strategy of deftly dodging the regulators and politicians”.

AIMRA urged the government to “suspend all Amazon activities in India” until there is an investigation into the company’s practices.

Amazon says it doesn’t give preferential treatment to any seller on its marketplace and has always complied with Indian law.

Amazon and Modi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Indian retailers, a crucial part of Modi’s support base, have long alleged that Amazon and Walmart’s Flipkart flout federal regulations and that their business practices hurt small traders. The companies, which run the two biggest e-commerce platforms in India, deny the allegations.

The Amazon documents reviewed by Reuters showed the company helped a small number of sellers prosper on its website, discounted their fees and helped one cut special deals with big tech manufacturers such as Apple Inc.

Some 35 of Amazon’s more than 400,000 sellers in India in early 2019 accounted for around two-thirds of its online sales, the documents also showed.

AIMRA said in its letter the government should cap a single seller’s daily smartphone sales on Amazon and Flipkart at 500,000 rupees ($6,829).

The group also alleges the U.S. firms promoted sales on their platforms through preferred sellers, asking the government to investigate tie-ups between smartphone brands and these sellers.

Flipkart did not respond to a request for comment. In the special report published last month, Amazon said in a statement that it was helping small businesses in India and that it “treats all sellers in a fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory manner”.

Brick-and-mortar retailers have said they’re struggling to compete with the tech giants as online smartphone sales boom. By 2019, 44% of smartphones in India were being sold online, with Amazon and Flipkart dominating the sales, according to Forrester Research.