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Transporters cry foul over alleged diversion of N10bn COVID-19 bailout

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There is growing discontent among transport operators over reported disbursement of N10bn funds promised them by the Federal Government to ease the effects of last year’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdown on their business.

While the Federal Government claimed to have released the money to transporters, luxury bus owners and city bus operators said none of them had received the intervention funds.

The transport operators said they had continued to wait for the funds in vain after submitting documents to the Federal Government for verification as requested.

PTONA had earlier in 2020 estimated a loss of about N200bn in revenue just in 10 weeks of the lockdown.

Another major operator who spoke under anonymity said that when they approached the Federal Ministry of Transportation, they were directed to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

On getting to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, the source disclosed that they were told that the money had been disbursed to Keke-Napep riders

Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria also claimed its members had not benefited from the fund.

Confirming their position, the National President of RTEAN, Alhaji Musa Muhammed, said he was not aware of the funds disbursement.

“I am not aware of any N10bn palliative. We have not seen anything. The only money which some of our members got was the N30,000 MSME fund and not many people got the money,” Muhammed said.

It was learnt that among the operators who have been asked to submit documents for verification were the interstate luxury bus operators under the aegis of the PTONA.

Having lost billions of naira due to the 98-day lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had expected they would deploy the palliative to beef up their business but they are yet to benefit.

In a letter dated March 28, 2021 addressed to the Minister of State for Transportation,

Gbemisola Saraki, and signed by the Deputy President, Emeka Mamah, the group pleaded for the verification of two key issues as it concerned the funds.

First, PTONA asked the minister to correct apparent confusion in treating the N10 billion covid-19 palliative fund approved for Road Transporters as MSME Survival fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

The group also asked for immediate disbursement of the N10bn COVID-19 palliative fund to their members to prevent imminent collapse of interstate passenger transport companies in Nigeria.

According to PTONA, efforts made to secure an appointment to pay a working visit to the minister to discuss issues relating to the undue delay in disbursing the funds to road transporters was not granted.

“However, in your reply to our letter dated 3rd March, 2021 (a copy is attached) our request for the visit was neither approved nor rejected. On the contrary, you simply advised our association to redirect its inquiry regarding the fund to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment since the intervention fund for the transport sector had been released to the ministry by the Federal Government,” the group stated in the letter.

Lamenting further, PTONA insisted that the N10 billion Covid-19 palliatives fund approved by the Federal was totally different from the N60 billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, adding that “the N10 billion COVID-19 Palliative Fund was meant to assist road transporters to resuscitate their businesses that were on negative income throughout the 14 weeks that the country was on complete lockdown for all interstate passenger movement due to Covid-19 Pandemic.”

“On the other hand, an aspect of the N60 billion MSME Survival Fund domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is a one-off grant designed to support vulnerable Micro Small and Medium Enterprises in meeting up their salary obligations under the Federal Government’s National Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP),” PITONA added.

Several efforts were made to reach the Director of Press in the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Mr Eric Ojiekwe, but he neither answered his calls nor responded to a text message sent to his phone.

 

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Tesla driverless car explodes after crashing into tree

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Two men have died after a Tesla vehicle, which was believed to be operating without anyone in the driver’s seat, crashed into a tree on Saturday night north of Houston, authorities said.

After the fire was extinguished, authorities located two occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat and the other in the back seat of the Tesla

The accident came amid growing scrutiny over Tesla’s semi-automated driving system following recent accidents.

The US auto safety agency said in March it had opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles.

“There was no-one in the driver’s seat,” Sergeant Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 said.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at high speed when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the road, crashing into a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in January that he expected huge profits from the company’s full self-driving software, saying he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year”.

Experts say the self-driving technology must overcome safety and regulatory hurdles to achieve commercial success.

-Reuters

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Mercedes-Benz stuns with another seven-seater crossover SUV

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A few days after Mercedes-Benz revealed what it calls the mother of all electric vehicles in the form of the sophisticated EQS luxury sedan, it has added another stunning product to the Mercedes-EQ family of cars, the EQB.

This is a seven-seater, crossover sport utility vehicle that is to the GLB-class what the EQA is to the GLA.

Car and Driver in a report quotes the premium German automaker as saying the EQB is based on the GLB crossover.

Mercedes-Benz EQ is a series of battery electric vehicles manufactured by Mercedes-Benz. The first model was previewed at the Paris Motor Show in 2016 with the Generation EQ concept vehicle.

The EQB will be launched first in China, where it debuts in a luxuriously equipped all-wheel-drive version with AMG Line styling.

Europe is to have it next in three versions: front- and all-wheel-drive models and a range-optimizing mid-level EQB.

The new vehicle will however not be released to the US market until next year.

While the sheet metal and glass are identical, the styling department under Gorden Wagener has cleaned up the exterior for a more contemporary and sophisticated look.

The front is graced by the trademark EQ headlight/fascia assembly, with a horizontal light bar stretching over the entire width.

This element is reflected on the tail end, which boasts a horizontal light strip as well.

There are EQ-specific colours and wheels, and there will be a choice of regular or AMG-Line front and rear bumpers.

The interior is carried over from the GLB as well, but it comes with EQ-exclusive color and trim options, including rose gold (pictured here), one of Wagener’s favorite colors.

Due to the battery packs in the floor, interior space suffers a bit: Daimler cautions that the third row will only work for people up to 5’5″ and the trunk shrinks considerably.

That said, the EQB is still a crossover SUV that offers more space than usual for its exterior dimensions.

The EQB was unveiled in China, and it will be launched there first as a fully loaded model with a standard AMG Line look, all-wheel drive, and two motors that make a combined 288 horsepower.

Europe will get both the EQB350 4Matic with around 268 horsepower and the front-wheel-drive EQB250 with 221 horsepower; there will also be a mid-level version designed as a long-range model. Both China and Europe will see the EQB at dealers within the 2021 calendar year.

The US will have to wait until 2022, and the company is mum about the possible powertrain options.

Car and Driver says, “What we can deduce from our experience with the EQA is that even the least powerful versions of the EQB will come in at around 4500 pounds, which we hope won’t translate into plodding, cumbersome handling characteristics, even if that would feel a bit less out of place in a people hauler like the EQB than in a compact hatch like the EQA.

“There will be no true AMG version, unlike on the EQS and the EQE. However, we’ll suspend judgment until we can drive it.”

 

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Audi to light up Auto Shanghai with new E-Tron

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Audi has released a first teaser of its new E-Tron sedan ahead of the launch of the lustrous car today April 19 at the 2021 Auto Shanghai.

But it only showed the long front end, though the company is back with a second teaser that reveals much more for the car.

The latest teaser, posted to Audi’s Weibo account, the Facebook-like Chinese social media site, shows the car in profile with dramatic shadows obscuring most of the bodywork. But a little tweaking in Photoshop reveals a bit more of the car’s styling.

One of the first things jumping out is the rear overhang, which looks oddly elongated compared to the front.

Audi will show off the car at Auto Shanghai 2021 on Monday, April 19.

However, while its reveal is imminent, the new sedan isn’t expected to go on sale until the 2023 model year, so it will be a bit before you can buy one.

It should be the first model to ride on the brand’s Premium Platform Electric architecture that Audi jointly developed with Porsche.

The teaser confirms much of what is expected – a sedan similar in size and shape to the Audi A5 Sportback.

However, the new E-Tron does look sleeker than the A5 Sportback, with a lower greenhouse and unique proportions. One can even spot the charging door on the rear quarter panel.

Elections will power the new fastback sedan, though the setup remains unclear. A single-motor model will power the rear wheels, while a dual-motor setup in higher performance trim will power all four.

It should also sport 800-volt charging and offer around 300 miles of range, though that could be less in the US with its strict testing regiment. Inside, people should expect to see a similar design to what’s in the E-Tron GT, though it will be a bit less luxurious as this new E-Tron will likely slot below the GT.

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