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SoftBank in talks to sell French robotics business to Germany’s United Robotics -sources

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October 22, 2021

By Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) -SoftBank Group Corp is in talks to sell the Paris-based robotics business behind its Pepper android to Germany’s United Robotics Group, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters, scaling back a business it once touted as a major growth driver.

The talks are ongoing and plans could change, said two sources familiar with the matter, who declined to be named as they are not permitted to speak to the media. It is not clear whether SoftBank will retain a stake in the business, nor how much the deal would be worth.

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United Robotics Group, which is backed by German industrial robot maker Hahn, became the European master distributor for SoftBank’s struggling Pepper and Nao robots in October.

United Robotics declined to comment. SoftBank has said it remains committed to the Pepper business.

Reuters reported in June https://www.reuters.com/technology/exclusive-softbank-shrinks-robotics-business-stops-pepper-production-sources-2021-06-28 that SoftBank had stopped production of Pepper and slashed jobs at its robotics business globally. Roughly half of 330 staff positions were cut in France, where operations date back to the 2012 acquisition of start-up Aldebaran, which custom-designed Pepper for SoftBank.

Additional staff have quit because of low morale, forcing SoftBank to advertise positions to fill core functions, according to the sources and a review of job postings.

United Robotics has offices in Germany and Austria, according to its website. Recently departed SoftBank staff in areas such as sales have been hired by the company, according to the sources.

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SoftBank, which is riven by a culture divide between its European workforce and Japanese managers, has a dwindling stock of aging Pepper units https://www.reuters.com/article/us-softbank-group-pepper-focus-idCAKBN2ER0JK and components approaching obsolescence, Reuters reported previously.

In addition to selling Pepper and Nao, a small humanoid robot, United Robotics also markets robots like Sawyer, an industrial robot that can operate alongside humans.

The restructuring comes as SoftBank focuses on selling third party hardware following the commercial failure of Pepper.

The conglomerate has created a parallel sales operation in Britain, reducing its reliance on the Paris-based business.

SoftBank engineers in France have been working on a secret project to design a serving robot called Plato, according to the sources and documents reviewed by Reuters.

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However, managers in Japan have put off ordering the robot, the sources said. At the same time, SoftBank has struck deals to sell similar robots from outside firms, diminishing the commercial viability of its own product.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey. Editing by David Dolan and Gerry Doyle)

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Business

Canada’s Shopify records Black Friday sales up 21%

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November 27, 2021

(Reuters) – Canadian e-commerce company Shopify Inc recorded worldwide sales of nearly $2.9 billion on Black Friday, an increase of about 21% in comparison to last year, the company said Saturday.

New York, London and Los Angeles were among the top-selling cities, the company said, while apparel and accessories was the top-selling product category.

Shopify also said it funded 23,000+ tonnes of carbon removal to counteract emissions from the delivery of every order placed on its platform on Black Friday.

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(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Xiaomi to open car plant in Beijing with annual output of 300,000 vehicles – Beijing govt

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November 27, 2021

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi Corp will build a plant that can produce 300,000 vehicles annually in Beijing for its electric vehicle unit, authorities in the capital said on Saturday.

The plant will be constructed in two phases and Xiaomi will also built its auto unit’s headquarters, sales and research offices in the Beijing Economic and Technological Development Zone, the government-backed economic development agency Beijing E-Town said on its official WeChat account.

Beijing E-Town said it anticipated the plant reaching mass production in 2024, a goal announced by Xiaomi’s Chief Executive Lei Jun in October.

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In March, Xiaomi said it would commit to investing $10 billion in a new electric car division over 10 years. The company completed the business registration of its EV unit in late August.

The company has been opening thousands of stores to spur domestic sales growth for its smartphone business but eventually intends to use these shops as a channel for its plans to sell electric vehicles.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by William Mallard)

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Eni sells Snam 49.9% stake in Algeria gas pipelines for 385 million euros

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November 27, 2021

MILAN (Reuters) -Italian energy group Eni has agreed to sell gas group Snam 49.9% of its stake in strategic pipelines carrying Algerian gas into Italy for 385 million euros ($436 million), the two companies said on Saturday.

The pipelines will be jointly controlled by the two companies, they said in a joint statement.

Italy imports more than 90% of its overall gas needs and Algerian gas currently accounts for around 30% of flows.

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“This transaction allows us to free up new resources to be used on our energy transition path,” Eni Chief Executive Claudio Descalzi said.

Eni is working on spinning off a series of oil and gas operations into new joint ventures to help reduce debt and fund its shift to low-carbon energy.

Snam, which owns a 20% stake in the TAP pipeline that carries Azeri gas into Italy, makes most of its money from managing Italy’s gas transport grid.

It has pledged to spend more on new green business lines such as hydrogen and, like other gas grid operators in Europe, is upgrading its gas network to be hydrogen ready.

“In the future, North Africa could also become a hub for producing solar energy and green hydrogen,” Snam CEO Marco Alvera said.

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The pipeline companies involved in the deal posted net income of around 90 million euros in 2020.

($1 = 0.8836 euros)

(Reporting by Stephen Jewkes, editing by Giselda Vagnoni)

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