Takata bankruptcy would cloud auto industry’s biggest recall

The expected bankruptcy of troubled airbag maker Takata Corp. isn’t just a crisis for its employees and suppliers. It also throws a wild card into one of the biggest and most complicated recalls in automotive history.

The Japan-based auto supplier has pledged to recall and replace tens of millions of defective airbag inflators used by 19 automakers around the world, from Tesla Inc. to Toyota Motor Corp. A filing to restructure in U.S. bankruptcy court, which could come as early as Monday according to people familiar with the matter, doesn’t relieve a manufacturer of recall responsibilities.

However, should its financial assets be exhausted before all the work is done, carmakers may have to cover the difference.

U.S. bankruptcy laws permit a would-be buyer to acquire Takata’s desirable assets, but not necessarily assume unwanted liabilities — including recall obligations, according to Robert Rasmussen, a University of Southern California law professor specializing in corporate reorganizations.

Funds raised by an asset sale would go toward funding Takata’s production of replacement parts, Rasmussen said. U.S. law treats a manufacturer’s recall obligations in bankruptcy as a claim of the U.S. government and they receive priority “to ensure that consumers are adequately protected from any safety defect” in a manufacturer’s products, according to statute.

“The big risk,” Rasmussen said, “is how much are the assets worth versus what’s the cost to do the replacements.”

Scott Upham, president of Valient Market Research, estimates that automakers and suppliers globally face $5 billion in future costs tied to the recalls, about $2 billion of which can be tied to Takata. He estimates a Takata asset sale will generate about $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

“There’s not enough money,” Upham said. Automakers may have to cover any shortfall, he said.

The car companies have already shifted business away from Takata and toward rivals for about 70 percent of the parts to repair the millions of vehicles recalled for the company’s defective airbag inflators, which can explode with too much force and spray drivers and passengers with metal and plastic shards. That should assure enough new inflators for the estimated 100 million defective ones forecast to be replaced worldwide.

Only 38 percent of the 43 million airbag inflators under recall in the U.S. had been repaired as of May 26, according to data on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. In Japan, 73 percent of the close to 19 million airbags under recall have been repaired, a spokesman at the country’s transport ministry said this month.

At least 17 deaths have been linked to the devices worldwide. Mounting liabilities associated with the faulty airbags have forced Takata to seek a buyer that would see it through a costly restructuring process. A Takata steering committee has recommended Key Safety Systems Inc. — the U.S. airbag maker owned by China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. — as the preferred bidder, and bankruptcy filings would bring the Japanese company a step closer to a sale.

The challenges for the acquirer are manifold.

Takata posted its third-straight annual loss even without including the full costs of repairing millions of airbags, which automakers are now paying for. It faces a talent exodus and auto industry distrust.

“It would be hard for Key Safety Systems to put in huge amounts of money if there’s no guarantee against unexpected liabilities, after any deal,” said Mitsuhiro Harada, a researcher at Tokyo Shoko Research. “Takata is making money in non-airbag operations, so if they can drastically cut recall-related debt through bankruptcy, they can surely revive soon.”

Replacement suppliers

Automakers have avoided supply disruptions by sourcing replacement parts from Takata competitors Autoliv Inc., ZF-TRW and Daicel Corp. Autoliv, for example, has already provided 15 million replacement inflators and has orders for another 15 million into 2019, company spokesman Thomas Jonsson said.

“We are working with suppliers to ensure a steady supply of replacement inflators for our customers,” said Kelly Stefanich, a Toyota spokeswoman in Princeton, Ind. “We don’t anticipate any supply disruptions at this time.” Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo said at a June 16 media briefing that the automaker hasn’t heard any specifics about the Takata bankruptcy plan.

The Japanese government has said it’s focused on completing the recall process and ensuring there’s no disruption of the supply chain.

In the U.S., NHTSA has been coordinating the pace of recalls and the flow of parts under a legally-binding 2015 agreement with Takata and 19 companies. That pact, NHTSA said, “is designed to deal with future contingencies, including the possibility of additional recalls, new information about the cause of the ruptures, or interruptions in the supply of replacement inflators.”

“The automakers, the government, Key Safety Systems and Takata will come to an agreement to keep supplies flowing,” Upham said. “The No. 1 priority is the safety of the driving public, and I think everybody realizes that.”

Honda impact

Honda first started recalling Accord and Civic models in 2008 due to the flaw that may end up being Takata’s undoing. The supplier’s inflators use ammonium nitrate propellant that can be rendered unstable after long-term exposure to heat and humidity. That same year, Takata began adding a drying agent to its propellant formula in an attempt to fix the problem. It has until the end of 2019 to prove to U.S. regulators that those airbags are safe.

Honda now uses no Takata-sourced inflators for recall repairs in the U.S., and none of the company’s new vehicles in mass production worldwide use Takata inflators with ammonium nitrate propellant, said Chris Martin, a Honda spokesman in the U.S..

Opting for bankruptcy protection in Japan and the U.S., as opposed to a court-led restructuring, should ensure there’s “minimum negative impact to the airbag supply chain for automakers,” said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at Tokyo-based market researcher Carnorama. He predicts the procedure would take two months in a best-case scenario, but would more likely need half a year.

GM settles with 203 plaintiffs over ignition switches

NEW YORK — General Motors agreed to settle federal lawsuits by as many as 203 plaintiffs over defective ignition switches in its vehicles, a Friday court filing shows.

Settlement terms are confidential, but the accord could also resolve hundreds of state court claims, as well, lawyers for the automaker said in the filing in Manhattan federal court.

Lawyers for the settling plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment. A GM spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

GM has been defending against hundreds of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that could cause engines to stall and prevent airbags from deploying in crashes.

The defect has been linked to 124 deaths and 275 injuries, and prompted a recall that began in February 2014.

GM has paid about $2.5 billion in penalties and settlements related to the defect.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that blocked GM’s effort to scuttle many private lawsuits.

The company had argued that its 2009 bankruptcy reorganization excused it from addressing earlier defects.

GM’s lawyers said they are working with the plaintiffs’ lawyers to complete documentation within the next month for the settlement, whose terms “will take some time” to implement.

Tesla rolls through Michigan towing an Airstream

Tesla Inc. is touring Michigan with an Airstream trailer towed by the new Model X crossover — a way to showcase its vehicles where they are unable to be sold.

The automaker, barred under state law from selling cars in Michigan, is making its way north after the trailer was stationed in Detroit earlier this month.

The road trip aims to expose more consumers to the electric crossover, which offers a 5,000-pound towing capability and upswinging “falcon wing” doors. The Model X starts at $83,700, including shipping.

Also outfitted as a design studio, the mobile display began its journey around Michigan this month. Six other Model X crossovers have been towing Airstreams in cities across North America since January — landing along the East and West coasts as well as in Chicago and Atlanta.

In Detroit, Tesla representatives declined to comment on details of the tour.

The Silicon Valley electric car maker sells through a direct-to-customer model, rather than using franchised dealerships. In September, Tesla sued Michigan after being denied a license to sell directly to consumers. The suit is pending.

Under a Michigan law that restricts vehicle sales to franchised dealers, Tesla can’t give browsers the exact price of the vehicle, pass out business cards or pitch specific car specs.

The trailer will be stationed in Acme, Mich., at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa on June 29-July 9, then move to Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville, July 11-17. After its stint in northern Michigan, the Model X and Airstream will roll south to Ann Arbor, July 20-23, and Grand Rapids, July 27-31.

Remaining stops on the summer road trip include New York City; Bridgehampton, N.Y.; Greenwich, Conn.; and Park City, Utah.

Ford’s China move casts new cloud on Mexican carmaking

MEXICO CITY — A second U-turn this year by Ford Motor Co. in Mexico has raised the specter of Chinese competition for local carmaking, adding to pressure on the industry after repeated threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to saddle it with punitive tariffs.

Ford announced on Tuesday it would move some production of its Focus small car to China instead of Mexico, a step that follows the U.S. automaker’s January cancellation of a planned $1.8 billion plant in the central state of San Luis Potosi.

The scrapping of the Ford plant was a bitter blow, coming after U.S. President Donald Trump had blamed the country for hollowing out U.S manufacturing on the campaign trail, and threatened to impose hefty tariffs on cars made in Mexico.

Since then, rhetoric from the Trump administration has become more conciliatory, and Mexico and the U.S. have expressed confidence that the renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal, expected to begin in August, could benefit both nations.

But the loss of the Focus business is an unwelcome reminder of competition Mexico faces from Asia at a time China’s auto exports and the quality of its cars are rising.

“For a long time, the quality of vehicles coming out of China was not to global standards. There was a gap in quality that (favored) Mexico — but that is closing,” said Philippe Houchois, an analyst covering the auto industry at investment bank Jefferies. “That is probably a threat to Mexico.”

In the past decade, global automakers have invested heavily in Chinese factories to make them capable of building cars at quality levels that make the grade in developed markets.

Ford’s decision to shift Focus production for the U.S. to China from Mexico shows automakers have increasing flexibility to choose between the two countries to supply niche vehicles to American consumers or other markets.

‘Very troubling’

Demand for small cars in the U.S. is waning and General Motors faces a similar situation to Ford’s with its Chevrolet Cruze compact.

Were GM to go down the same path with the Cruze and shift its production out of U.S. factories, it could give more work to its Mexican plants — but might also bring its Chinese operations in Shenyang or Yantai into play.

“The Cruze is a global product that is built in multiple GM plants around the world, including the U.S.,” said GM spokesman Pat Morrissey. “Our general philosophy is that we like to build where we sell.”

Studies show Mexican manufacturing is competitive, and business leaders believe that NAFTA talks between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada could ultimately yield tougher regional content rules for the region that benefit local investment.

Ford said its decision balanced cheaper Chinese labor rates against pricier shipping, but that in the end an already-planned refit of its Chinese factory saved it some $500 million over retooling both that facility and its Hermosillo plant in Mexico.

The volatile state of U.S.-Mexican trade relations also carries big risks if Trump renews his threats to impose 35-percent tariffs on cars made in Mexico.

To be sure, Trump has also threatened to levy 45-percent tariffs on Chinese goods and his Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he found Ford’s China move “very troubling.”

Trump’s threats have battered the peso, ironically making Mexico’s goods cheaper. Uncertainty over the future of NAFTA pushed the currency to a record low in January, although it has since rebounded.

That same month, the Boston Consulting Group published an assessment of manufacturing competitiveness that gave Mexico an 11-percent lead over China.

That advantage has prompted global firms to plow billions of dollars into the Mexican auto industry, pushing output to record highs. Some officials in the automotive sector painted Ford’s move as a one-off decision.

“There’s still very dynamic investment and growth in plants,” said Alfredo Arzola, director of the automotive cluster in Guanajuato state, one of Mexico’s top carmaking hubs.

Quality gains

Still, there have been “significant quality improvements” in Chinese cars, consultancy J.D. Power said in a 2016 study.

Chinese car manufacturing could catch up with international standards in China by 2018 or 2019, said Jacob George, general manager of J.D. Power’s Asia Pacific Operations, citing the consultancy’s gauge of “hard quality,” or failures.

However, when measured in terms of “perceptual” quality, China was probably still some 4 to 6 years behind, he added.

Joe White and Paul Lienert contributed to this report.

Tesla, others seek ways to keep drivers’ hands on wheel

WASHINGTON — Automakers are using tiny cameras, sensors to track drooping heads, steering wheel monitors and audible alerts to ensure drivers pay attention when using advanced driver assistance systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel.

In a report this week on the May 2016 crash of a Tesla Inc. Model S that killed a driver who was using Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board demonstrated that users could mostly keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods despite repeated warnings from the vehicle.

But the crash underscored a vexing problem for automakers that want to gain an edge by launching technology that completely automates driving tasks. Unless a car is capable of driving itself safely in every situation, drivers will still have to remain alert and ready to take control even if the car is piloting itself.

The NTSB, the federal agency charged with investigating significant transportation accidents, said during a 37-minute section of the 41-minute Tesla trip, the driver kept his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds, putting his hands on the wheel for one- to- three second increments after getting repeated visual and audible warnings.

General Motors delayed introduction of a driver assistance technology called Super Cruise that was initially planned for late last year because it said it was not ready. The technology will go on sale this fall.

Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Super Cruise, said the company added “a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision.”

The system uses a small camera that focuses on the driver and works with infrared lights to track head position to determine where the driver is looking.

If the system — which uses facial recognition software — detects the driver is not paying attention, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road. If the driver does not respond, it will escalate alerts, including a steering wheel light bar, visual indicators, tactile alerts in the seat and audible alerts. If the driver does not respond, the vehicle is brought to a controlled stop.

Volkswagen AG’s luxury Audi unit has a system that handles steering and braking at speeds of up to 40 miles. The system requires the driver to check in with the steering wheel every 15 seconds. Audi said the system will beep alerts at the driver, and if the driver does not respond, it will bring the vehicle to a stop.

No pre-approval

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the lead agency for regulating self-driving cars, does not test or pre-approve driver assistance systems before automakers install them. Instead, the agency responds to complaints or crashes when it investigates whether a potential defect poses an unreasonable risk to driver safety. The May 2016 Tesla accident has raised concerns about the regulation of self-driving cars.

The NTSB will issue probable cause findings and may make recommendations to the NHTSA in the Tesla crash but does not plan to hold a public hearing on the incident, spokesman Keith Holloway said.

In September 2016, Tesla unveiled new restrictions on Autopilot after widespread concerns the system lulled users into a false sense of security through its “hands-off” driving capability.

The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

The car sounds warnings if drivers take their hands off the wheel for more than a minute at speeds above 45 miles per hour when there is no vehicle ahead, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters in September. If the driver ignores three audible warnings in an hour, the system temporarily shuts off until it is parked.

‘It’s not the neophytes’

Musk said at the time that autopilot accidents are far more likely for expert users of the system, saying some users got as many as 10 warnings in an hour under the prior system. “It’s not the neophytes, it’s the experts. They get very comfortable with it and repeatedly ignore the car’s warnings and in effect it becomes like a reflex action,” Musk said.

Tesla monitors drivers through their interactions with the steering wheel, turn signal, and speed setting, NHTSA said in a separate report.

Google affiliate Waymo, which is also working on self-driving technology, is taking a different approach, arguing that asking drivers to pay attention while the car drives itself is wrong. Waymo is focusing its efforts on fully autonomous vehicles where humans take no part in driving, rather driver assistance.

“We’re not seeking to build a better car. Our goal is to build a better driver,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said earlier this year.

Tesla, others seek ways to ensure drivers keep their hands on the wheel

WASHINGTON — Automakers are using tiny cameras, sensors to track drooping heads, steering wheel monitors and audible alerts to ensure drivers pay attention when using advanced driver assistance systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel.

In a report this week on the May 2016 crash of a Tesla Inc. Model S that killed a driver who was using Autopilot, the National Transportation Safety Board demonstrated that users could mostly keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods despite repeated warnings from the vehicle.

But the crash underscored a vexing problem for automakers that want to gain an edge by launching technology that completely automates driving tasks. Unless a car is capable of driving itself safely in every situation, drivers will still have to remain alert and ready to take control even if the car is piloting itself.

The NTSB, the federal agency charged with investigating significant transportation accidents, said during a 37-minute section of the 41-minute Tesla trip, the driver kept his hands on the wheel for just 25 seconds, putting his hands on the wheel for one- to- three second increments after getting repeated visual and audible warnings.

General Motors delayed introduction of a driver assistance technology called Super Cruise that was initially planned for late last year because it said it was not ready. The technology will go on sale this fall.

Barry Walkup, chief engineer of Super Cruise, said the company added “a driver attention function, to insist on driver supervision.”

The system uses a small camera that focuses on the driver and works with infrared lights to track head position to determine where the driver is looking.

If the system — which uses facial recognition software — detects the driver is not paying attention, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road. If the driver does not respond, it will escalate alerts, including a steering wheel light bar, visual indicators, tactile alerts in the seat and audible alerts. If the driver does not respond, the vehicle is brought to a controlled stop.

Volkswagen AG’s luxury Audi unit has a system that handles steering and braking at speeds of up to 40 miles. The system requires the driver to check in with the steering wheel every 15 seconds. Audi said the system will beep alerts at the driver, and if the driver does not respond, it will bring the vehicle to a stop.

No pre-approval

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the lead agency for regulating self-driving cars, does not test or pre-approve driver assistance systems before automakers install them. Instead, the agency responds to complaints or crashes when it investigates whether a potential defect poses an unreasonable risk to driver safety. The May 2016 Tesla accident has raised concerns about the regulation of self-driving cars.

The NTSB will issue probable cause findings and may make recommendations to the NHTSA in the Tesla crash but does not plan to hold a public hearing on the incident, spokesman Keith Holloway said.

In September 2016, Tesla unveiled new restrictions on Autopilot after widespread concerns the system lulled users into a false sense of security through its “hands-off” driving capability.

The updated system temporarily prevents drivers from using the system if they do not respond to audible warnings to take back control of the car.

The car sounds warnings if drivers take their hands off the wheel for more than a minute at speeds above 45 miles per hour when there is no vehicle ahead, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told reporters in September. If the driver ignores three audible warnings in an hour, the system temporarily shuts off until it is parked.

‘It’s not the neophytes’

Musk said at the time that autopilot accidents are far more likely for expert users of the system, saying some users got as many as 10 warnings in an hour under the prior system. “It’s not the neophytes, it’s the experts. They get very comfortable with it and repeatedly ignore the car’s warnings and in effect it becomes like a reflex action,” Musk said.

Tesla monitors drivers through their interactions with the steering wheel, turn signal, and speed setting, NHTSA said in a separate report.

Google affiliate Waymo, which is also working on self-driving technology, is taking a different approach, arguing that asking drivers to pay attention while the car drives itself is wrong. Waymo is focusing its efforts on fully autonomous vehicles where humans take no part in driving, rather driver assistance.

“We’re not seeking to build a better car. Our goal is to build a better driver,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said earlier this year.

Alfa Romeo won’t use incentives as brand puts panache over sales

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Alfa Romeo’s global brand chief says he won’t cut prices to meet lofty U.S. sales goals, because he insists Fiat Chrysler Automobiles isn’t setting such targets in the first place.

The absence of set objectives is a rarity for Reid Bigland, who’s also head of U.S. sales for all of Fiat Chrysler. His focus is on building out Alfa Romeo’s dealer network and reestablishing the brand in the U.S. as a true luxury name, with the Stelvio crossover about to join Giulia sedans in showrooms.

“Really no volume projections,” Bigland told reporters this week at a Stelvio drive event in Nashville, Tenn. “We’re going to work the long-term game with Giulia as well as with Stelvio and we’ll see how it goes as to how many we’re going to sell.”

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne’s deputies are accustomed to taking aim at ambitious forecasts the boss has made public over the years at regularly held releases of five-year plans. With Alfa Romeo, the company has to balance the opportunity for expanding volume with the need to keep consumers thinking its models are worthy of fatter sticker prices than the Dodges or Chryslers elsewhere on dealer lots.

“It’s a completely different game, with the two games really not to be confused,” Bigland said.

With the Stelvio reaching dealerships next month and joining the Giulia and the 4C coupe, Alfa Romeo will have just three models for U.S. customers. Audi has that many SUV lines alone. Luxury leaders Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus have even more.

Tall order

Gaining ground against these established giants won’t come easy, said Joe Phillippi, a Short Hills, N.J.-based auto industry consultant.

“Sergio’s got his own set of expectations which usually don’t come to pass and then the poor guy that was assigned to manage it gets the boot,” Phillippi said in a phone interview.

Alfa Romeo intends to challenge German and Japanese brands with Italian design, a deep racing heritage and powerful engines. The first Stelvio models will be powered by a 2.0-liter, aluminum engine that delivers 280 hp and 306 pound-feet of torque. Coming later will be the faster Quadrifoglio version with a 505-hp, 2.9-liter engine.

“I don’t think anything will touch it,” Bigland said.

The Giulia and Stelvio are built on the same platform, called Giorgio. It makes extensive use of lightweight materials, including magnesium and carbon fiber, helping maintain a 50-50 distribution of weight from front to back.

“We have to give the customers content to conquest,” said Pieter Hogeveen, Alfa Romeo’s North America chief, while highlighting standard leather interiors, bi-xenon headlamps, genuine wood and aluminum accents and painted brake calipers.

Dealer network

Alfa Romeo should have about 215 dealers in North America by the end of the year, up from the current 184, Bigland said. That compares with about 2,400 mainstream Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealers.

About 60 of the Alfa Romeo stores in North America are housed with Maserati outlets. Bigland said the pairing of the two high-end Italian sports-car brands makes some markets viable where neither could support a single-brand store. The two brands may combine for a total of 230,000 vehicle sales worldwide this year and Alfa Romeo may deliver profits as soon as the fourth quarter, Marchionne said in April.

With the expansion of the dealer network and lineup, Alfa Romeo is starting to increase sales. After selling 1,106 cars in North America in the first quarter, Bigland sees that figure topping 3,000 in the three months that end next week.

FCA has been bold in its assessment that consumer tastes have permanently shifted from sedans to SUVs. The company killed off mainstream sedan models in the U.S. to free up more capacity for pickups and Jeeps. Now, the Stelvio is entering a midsize segment that makes up a quarter of the 2.1 million premium vehicles sold in the U.S. last year.

“We feel we’ve got the right product for the right time,” Bigland said.

Mitsubishi eyes Renault-Nissan resources to grow in U.S., China

TOKYO — Mitsubishi will tap new growth in the United States and China by using the Renault-Nissan “toolbox” of products, technologies and factories, top executives said.

Mitsubishi has been unable to gain sufficient traction in the world’s two biggest auto markets because it has been short on resources, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Chairman Carlos Ghosn said.

That will be remedied now, Ghosn told reporters at a press conference here Friday in advance of the automaker’s annual shareholders meeting.

“A lot of this potential depends on new products,” Ghosn said of Mitsubishi’s turnaround.

“There are a lot of needs which have not been addressed by Mitsubishi because Mitsubishi doesn’t have the technology or doesn’t have the segment or did not have the platform.”

He said Mitsubishi will lean heavily on resources from the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the global cross-ownership arrangement that struggling Mitsubishi was brought into last year when Nissan took a controlling 34 percent stake in its smaller Japanese rival.

Ghosn promised a V-shaped recovery for Mitsubishi, which saw profits plunge last year amid a scandal over faked fuel economy ratings. That crisis opened the door for Ghosn, who was then joint CEO of Nissan and Renault, to orchestrate the Mitsubishi takeover and appoint himself its chairman.

Its recovery plan has begun by focusing mostly on business in Southeast Asia, where it already has deep roots. But going forward, it will concentrate more on the U.S. and China, Ghosn said. Expanding there is key because of the vast size of both markets.

Ghosn promised results, particularly in China, as early as next year.

“Without any doubt, for me, the potential of development and growth of Mitsubishi in China is very big, and hopefully you will see it immediately, not five years down the road. You’re going to see it next year and the year following,” said Ghosn, flanked by Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko. “Also, the potential of development of Mitsubishi in the United States is very big.”

Neither Ghosn nor Masuko offered details about what lineup holes Mitsubishi needs to plug. But Masuko said electrified vehicles and crossovers will be the focus going ahead, and Ghosn said the alliance intends to commonize EV components to maximize cost and r&d efficiencies.

Masuko also said he hopes to tap the global production network of Renault and Nissan.

“We are thinking of using the facilities of Renault or Nissan eventually if it makes sense,” he said, without referring specifically to Nissan’s plants in the United States and Mexico. “Now being part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, we can use their toolbox.”

Under the comeback plan, Mitsubishi aims to boost its annual worldwide volume to 1.25 million vehicles in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, up from about 1 million today.

China will figure prominently in that plan. Masuko wants to more than triple Mitsubishi’s China sales to 300,000 vehicles a year in the early 2020s, from fewer than 100,000 in the fiscal year just ended, by introducing new products and expanding the dealer network.

Meanwhile, despite similarly modest volume, the U.S. remained Mitsubishi’s single biggest market last year. In the fiscal year that started April 1, Mitsubishi expects sales for the North America region to advance 3 percent to 148,000 vehicles.

Barra meets with Canada’s Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with General Motors CEO Mary Barra in Markham, Ont., on Thursday to discuss job creation, but neither the government nor automaker released many details about the discussions.

General Motors Canada CEO Stephen Carlisle and Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development were also in attendance.

The meeting wasn’t on the prime minister’s public itinerary, but his office did tweet about it while it was underway early Thursday.

“Started the day in Markham meeting with @GM’s CEO @mtbarra, to talk about creating more jobs in Canada & empowering women in business,” read a post on the prime minister official Twitter page.

Trudeau has made it clear that gender equity is a major plank of his government’s policies — his first 31-member cabinet included 15 women — and Barra is the first female CEO of a major global automaker.

GM interests

Officials from Trudeau’s office didn’t add much detail about the meeting in a statement issued to Automotive News Canada late Thursday evening.

“This morning in Markham, the Prime Minister met with Chairman and CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, to talk about creating more jobs in Canada and empowering women in business,” the prime minister’s press secretary Eleanore Catenaro wrote. “As the prime minister said at the beginning of their meeting, General Motors is making great investments in Canada, and there are exciting opportunities for traditional manufacturing as well as new innovative technologies in Markham.”

The automaker is in the process of hiring 1,000 software engineers over the next five years in Ontario. Most of them will work on technology used in autonomous and connected cars. GM has a technical center in Markham, where 700 people will eventually be employed.

“GM and Mary Barra have enjoyed a positive ongoing dialogue with the prime minister and [Ontario] premier on a range of topics, including GM’s focus on innovation and advanced mobility R&D, GM’s new electric vehicles, and ongoing issues of automotive industry competitiveness and trade,” GM Canada spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said in an email to Automotive News Canada. “[Thursday’s] meeting was a positive continuation of that dialogue during Mary Barra’s visit to see the new and fast expanding GM Canada Technical Centre in Markham, Ont.”

Started the day in Markham meeting with @GM‘s CEO @mtbarra, to talk about creating more jobs in Canada & empowering women in business. pic.twitter.com/94DLRqbY7U

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 22, 2017

Issues to discuss

It’s no secret that GM and the Canadian government talk a lot. According to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying Canada’s online database, officials from or representatives of General Motors Canada have met to lobby the government on a variety issues 148 times since the Oct. 19, 2015 election that sent the Liberals to a majority government. That’s more meetings than any other automaker currently assembling vehicles in Canada. Ford Canada follows closely with 124 meetings.

“As the Prime Minister has done many times when meeting with business leaders, he highlighted that Canada has a lot to offer in terms of our skilled, hard-working, creative, and diverse workforce,” Catenaro wrote. “Canada is open for business, and our economic agenda remains focused on growing Canada’s middle class and creating an economy that works for everyone.”

Beware that Adobe Flash update on your Android device: It could be malware

Researchers at cloud security company ZScaler have discovered a variant of the banking malware Marcher that makes it even more dangerous: It’s lurking on the internet disguised as a Flash update.

Users who open a suspect link will be told they need to update Flash and given the option to download an infected APK file. Opening the APK will prompt the user to disable security and allow installation of third-party apps, at which point the APK installs itself and prepares to steal credentials associated with finance app accounts.

ZScaler’s team goes on to state that less than 20 percent of antivirus software was able to detect this new form of Marcher. Its code is highly obfuscated, and that makes it even more dangerous—those who have it may have their credentials harvested without ever realizing it.

How Marcher steals credentials

This fake Flash version of Marcher operates exactly like older variants. It registers the device with a command and control (C&C) server and waits for an unsuspecting user to open a finance app. It’s then that Marcher springs into action.

SEE: Automated Mobile Application Security Assessment with Mobile Security Framework (TechRepublic Academy)

When a user opens one of over 40 affected apps (Chase, Paypal, Citibank, and even Walmart are among them) Marcher intercepts the login page request and opens a fake one hosted on the internet. If the user logs in, their credentials are as good as stolen—Marcher sends them off to its C&C server immediately.

How to protect yourself

Ideally you won’t ever get infected with this hard-to-spot malware. It has to be installed manually, so the best possible prevention is not falling for its attempts to make you do so.

Third-party Android apps, both legitimate and illegitimate, have to be allowed to install by changing a security setting. By making sure this setting is turned off you’re preventing not just Marcher, but other dangerous apps, from getting installed.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Go to Security.
  • Find the Unknown Sources item and make sure it’s toggled off.

If you suspect a device does have a Marcher infection don’t give it up for dead—it’s still possible to boot into safe mode to remove malware.

Marcher is a threat for both personal and business devices. If you are responsible for managing Android devices make sure you control app installation to prevent things like Marcher from happening.

SEE: Video: Mobile malware is up 400% from last year, and Android is the most infected (TechRepublic)

Android malware might be everywhere but it can be easy to prevent much of it by disabling app installation outside of the Play Store. Malware from the store is still a problem, so be sure you have a reliable antivirus app installed on Android devices too.

The three big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. A new version of the Marcher Android malware is masquerading as an Adobe Flash update.
  2. Once installed, Marcher redirects app users to false sign-in pages that it uses to steal credentials from finance-related apps.
  3. Android owners and administrators should be sure third-party app installation is turned off to prevent Marcher and malware like it from being accidentally installed.