Davos Diary: Central Lounge — the networking hub of the universe

All roads lead to the Central Lounge of the Congress Hall at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos. (AP Photo)
Updated 25 January 2019

Davos Diary: Central Lounge — the networking hub of the universe

  • My daily tactic has been to get on the shuttle from Klosters for the 20-minute trip to Davos, head straight to the Congress Hall, and shack up in the Central Lounge
  • As long as you can keep hold of your table and seat for the day, you have a ringside location for the best flesh-pressing in the world

DAVOS: I am penning these lines from the networking epicenter of the universe, the veritable “ground zero” of schmoozing — the Central Lounge of the Congress Hall at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

Although some of the bigger beasts of the annual jamboree in the snow have stayed away this year — we all miss you, Donald and Vladimir — you would not know it from the stellar crowd in this venue. Virtually everyone who is anyone in the world of business, politics and media is here.

It is a journalist’s dream. My daily tactic has been to get on the shuttle from Klosters for the 20-minute trip to Davos as early as possible, head straight to the Congress Hall, and shack up in the Central Lounge.

As long as you can keep hold of your table and seat for the day, which is not always possible given the appetite for space here, you have a ringside location for the best flesh-pressing in the world.

For some reason, the Middle East contingent loves the Central Lounge, so you can hear the familiar sounds of Arabic and watch the chance encounters, the planned bilaterals and the (sometimes) awkward confrontations that take place when Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris and Egyptians are enclosed in a small space.

From time to time, the really big hitters pass through on their way to one of the upstairs meeting rooms. These people, such as head of state Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and global superstars including Tony Blair, bring in their train the full entourage — bodyguards, advisers and attendant media — and leave a virtual shock wave in their wake. Questions from journalists are invariably declined with a tight-lipped shake of the head.

But others are far more chatty. The rules of the Central Lounge are clear: It is Chatham House, off the record, deep background only, unless you manage to get the agreement of person with whom you are chatting to use something they said for publication. In my experience, that happens rarely.

But perhaps that is a good thing, because it puts these celebrities at their ease, and they open up in a way they never would if there was a camera or a tape-recorder in front of them.

The encounters come faster than an Alpine avalanche. Sometimes you’re talking to one eminent business leader, and you see over their shoulder another, even more interesting, personality. The etiquette is that you fake an urgent phone call and head off to the new attraction.

In the space of 30 minutes this morning, I had fascinating conversations with Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Dubai real estate group Damac, followed by Jose Silva, the relatively new CEO of Dubai’s luxury hotels group Jumeirah. Then came Essa Kazim, governor of the Dubai International Financial Center.

Around and in between these fascinating encounters, there was a clutch of Saudi ministers, the Kingdom’s award-winning film director Haifaa Al-Mansour, the leading historian of the oil industry Daniel Yergin, and many financial “masters of the universe,” as well as a veritable constellation of glamorous media people.

Davos is famed for the quality of its night-time networking — which will be the subject of a subsequent diary — but for daylight schmoozing, leave me in the Central Lounge.
 

Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Electric luxury vehicles, SUVs ‘more likely to cause accidents’

Updated 38 min 7 sec ago

Electric luxury vehicles, SUVs ‘more likely to cause accidents’

  • As EV sales rise, French insurer AXA warns that drivers are struggling to adapt to cars’ rapid acceleration

LONDON: Electric luxury cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) may be 40 percent more likely to cause accidents than their standard engine counterparts, possibly because drivers are still getting used to their quick acceleration, French insurer AXA said.

The numbers, based on initial trends from claims data and not statistically significant, also suggest small and micro electric cars are slightly less likely to cause accidents than their combustion engine counterparts, AXA said at a crash test demonstration on Thursday.

AXA regularly carries out crash tests for vehicles. This year’s tests, which took place at a disused airport, focused on electric cars.

Overall accident rates for electric vehicles are about the same as for regular cars, according to liability insurance claims data for “7,000 year risks” — on 1,000 autos on the road for seven years — said Bettina Zahnd, head of accident research and prevention at AXA Switzerland.

“We saw that in the micro and small-car classes slightly fewer accidents are caused by electric autos. If you look at the luxury and SUV classes, however, we see 40 percent more accidents with electric vehicles,” Zahnd said.

“We, of course, have thought about what causes this and acceleration is certainly a topic.”

Electric cars accelerate not only quickly, but also equally strongly no matter how high the revolutions per minute, which means drivers can find themselves going faster than they intended.

FASTFACT

Accident rates among luxury and SUV electric vehicles are 40 percent higher than for their combustion engine counterparts.

Half of electric car drivers in a survey this year by AXA had to adjust their driving to reflect the new acceleration and braking characteristics.

“Maximum acceleration is available immediately, while it takes a moment for internal combustion engines with even strong horsepower to reach maximum acceleration. That places new demands on drivers,” Zahnd said.

Sales of electric cars are on the rise as charging infrastructure improves and prices come down.

Electric vehicles accounted for less than 1 percent of cars on the road in Switzerland and Germany last year, but made up 1.8 percent of Swiss new car sales, or 6.6 percent including hybrids, AXA said.

Accidents with electric cars are just about as dangerous for people inside as with standard vehicles, AXA said. The cars are subject to the same tests and have the same passive safety features such as airbags and seatbelts.

But another AXA survey showed most people do not know how to react if they come across an electric vehicle crash scene.

While most factors are the same — securing the scene, alerting rescue teams and providing first aid — it said helpers should also try to ensure the electric motor is turned off. This is particularly important because unlike an internal combustion engine the motor makes no noise. In serious crashes, electric autos’ high-voltage power plants automatically shut down, AXA noted, but damaged batteries can catch fire up to 48 hours after a crash, making it more difficult to deal with the aftermath of
an accident.

For one head-on crash test on Thursday, AXA teams removed an electric car’s batteries to reduce the risk of them catching fire, which could create intense heat and toxic fumes.

Zahnd said that studies in Europe had not replicated US findings that silent electric vehicles are as much as two-thirds more likely to cause accidents with pedestrians or cyclists.

She said the jury was still out on how crash data would affect the cost of insuring electric versus standard vehicles, noting this always reflected factors around both driver and car.

“If I look around Switzerland, there are lots of insurers that even give discounts for electric autos because one would like to promote electric cars,” she said.