Merkel in fresh push for nationwide e-car charging network

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to an electric vehicle during her visit to a solar powered metro station at Dwarka in New Delhi, India, November 2, 2019. (Reuters)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks next to an electric vehicle during her visit to a solar powered metro station at Dwarka in New Delhi, India, November 2, 2019. (Reuters)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with an official during her visit to a solar powered metro station at Dwarka in New Delhi, India, November 2, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 03 November 2019

Merkel in fresh push for nationwide e-car charging network

  • Merkel said the rapid expansion of easy-to-use charging stations was necessary to give drivers the "confidence"
  • Merkel’s government set itself the ambitious goal of increasing the number of charging stations to a million

FRANKFURT: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said her government was stepping up efforts to roll out a vast network of electric car charging points in a bid to encourage drivers to make the switch and help the country meet its climate targets.
In her weekly podcast, Merkel said the rapid expansion of reliable, easy-to-use charging stations across Germany was necessary to give drivers “the confidence to buy an e-car.”
“That’s why we want to create one million charging points by 2030, and the industry will participate in this too,” she said.
The comments came on the eve of a major meeting between car industry bosses and government ministries in Berlin.
In September, Merkel’s government set itself the ambitious goal of increasing the number of charging stations to a million as part of a package of measures to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
The country currently has just 21,000 public car charging points.
The government’s “climate package” also wants to see seven to 10 million zero-emission electric cars on the roads by 2030, up from around 220,000 last August.
But to achieve that, the transport ministry says drivers first need to overcome “range anxiety” — the fear of running out of juice in between charging points.
According to documents seen by AFP, the ministry will at Monday’s meeting lay out a plan that prioritizes installing battery-charging stations at supermarkets and petrol stations, and making it easier for building owners to set up charging points in underground parks.
The pivot to cleaner cars has been given fresh urgency as automakers face tough new EU limits on carbon dioxide emissions, while Berlin has come under pressure to take stronger climate action after falling short of its own 2020 targets for curbing greenhouse gases.
The government has insisted that automakers have to play their part in shifting to the greener cars of tomorrow, by offering discounts to buyers or by filling in gaps in the charging network.
But Merkel, once dubbed the “car chancellor” for her cosy ties with auto bosses, has also stressed that the crucial industry’s 800,000 employees will not be left behind.
Monday’s meeting was also about protecting jobs in the fast-changing sector, she said, adding that retraining schemes could help bring workers “along on the road to a modern, climate-friendly future.”


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.