Lyft and Waymo = Carpool; Bud Spending $2 billion to Up Its Game; AIG Bets Big on Latest CEO

Self-less…

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In case you were having trouble envisioning a world with driverless cars, you might want to check out Alphabet Inc.’s company Waymo. Waymo, a self-driving car company,  has just teamed up with Lyft, and that should be enough to make Uber more than a little nervous. You might be wondering why a company owned by Google even needs a much smaller company like Lyft for a partnership. But believe it or not, there’s a little quid pro quo going on because since Lyft has the dubious distinction of being the second largest ride service company, it will allow Waymo’s technology to reach even more people than without it. Isn’t that just beautiful? Uber, on the other hand, is looking to develop driverless technology on its own. If you recall, Waymo sued Uber back in February, alleging that Uber stole Waymo’s self-driving technology to build its own fleet.  But with the way things are going for Uber lately, it might be more prudent for the embattled ride-sharing company to focus on its current crop of legal and publicity challenges instead of driverless cars. For the time being anyway.  By the way, Lyft’s deal with Waymo is not exclusive. Which is super important considering that GM is a big Lyft investor and already has its own partnership in place to develop self-driving cars. It’s like legit double-dipping and everybody wins. In fact, come 2018, Lyft and GM will be set to deploy and test thousands of self-driving cars. Yikes!

Competitive beer…

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It might be hard to believe but the King of Beers is not looked upon as the royalty it once was. And so, its parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is plunking down $2 billion to try and fix that issue. The plan is to make a substantial, lucrative foray into new categories, while at the same time boosting its flagship brands which have been staring down the wrong end of increased competition.  The money will be spent over the next four years, using approximately $500 million per year. In case you were thinking that $2 billion seems like an awfully bloated  – no pun intended – number to spend on improving a beer brand, consider that beer is a more than $107 billion industry and no self-respecting beer company wants to lose ground in a market like that.  And make no mistake, beer has been losing ground lately with not as much of it being consumed like in years past. Hard to believe. I know, but various types of other alcoholic beverages have been flooding the market in recent years and consumers are digging them. Which leaves companies like Anheuser-Busch scrambling to reclaim its foamy territory.

No pressure or anything…

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Maybe the seventh time’s a charm for AIG, which just announced it’s coughing up $12 million – and then some – to pay its newest CEO, Brain Duperreault. By “then some” I refer to an additional 1.5 million stock options and a $16 million pay package all based on the hope that Duperreault will finally be the one to turn AIG around. Did you catch that? He’s getting all that and he hasn’t sat at his new desk yet. The last CEO, Peter Hancock, left in March because he wasn’t feeling the love, or rather investor support, including from the one and only Carl Icahn. But Brian Deperreault just might have what AIG’s been looking for all these years, well at least since 2005. He’s no stranger to AIG, having worked there as a deputy way back when. He’s coming over from Hamilton Insurance, and before that he was at Marsh & McClennan Cos. earning solid reputations at both firms. As for his first order of business: achieve stability in a company that has seen too many high-level departures, four straight quarters of losses and high claims costs. Good luck with that one, Mr. Duperreault. You’re gonna need it.

Amazon Lands Itself in the Middle East; Price of New Skin Drug Will Make Your Skin Crawl; Spoiler Alert: Uber’s Not So Diverse

Just Souq it up…

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In case you were wondering what Amazon’s been up to lately, here’s a hint: It’s got nothing to do with drones. Sort of. Instead, the online marketplace just agreed to scoop up Souq.com, the Dubai-based Amazon of the Middle East, and apparently the largest online retailer in the region. While we don’t know the exact numbers involved in the deal, we do know that 1.) There was one other bid by a billionaire from Dubai and 2.) It’s apparently the biggest tech merger & acquisition in the Arab world. Ever. At least according to somebody at Goldman Sachs. But I guess Goldman Sachs would know something like that. Rumor has it that although the Dubai billionaire, Mohamed Alabbar, counter-offered $800 million for the company, Amazon will be paying even less. What’s super-interesting about that factoid is that last year Souq.com was valued at around a billion following a funding round.

What a bargain…

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The good news is that the FDA actually approved a new treatment for severe eczema. The bad news is that it costs $37,000 a year to get it. But for some it might be worth every penny considering that one-third to two-thirds of the patients who used the drug actually regained clear or almost-clear skin.  Manufactured by Frace’s Sanofi SA and New York’s Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, the just approved drug, called Dupixent, is actually injected under the skin every two weeks, unlike previous eczema treatments, which are typically topical and often involve steroids and antihistamines. The injection apparently contains an antibody that does something to basically scare off the skin condition condition. Sort of. In any case, while $37,000 seems like a ridiculous amount of money to pay – because it is – consider that it’s still lower than Humira and Enbrel, drugs that also treat skin ailments. However, Wall Street didn’t look at it that way and instead sent shares of Regeneron down upon news of the five-figure price tag.

 

Well, what did you expect?

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Uber finally finally released its very first diversity report following a slew of issues, a ton of criticism, not to mention claims of sexual discrimination. But the only surprising thing about the report is that there weren’t any.  Surprises, that is. Sure the company employees minority groups. Unfortunately, those groups aren’t as well-represented at the top. The ride-hailing app employs about 12,000 people globally, and about 64% of them are males. Of that 12,000 figure, 36% are women and 22% of those women hold higher-level positions, while 15% of them work in the company’s tech areas. In the U.S., however, the numbers are almost embarrassing as blacks hold just 2.3% of leadership roles, while Hispanics represent .8% of those positions  – just not on the technical side.  And just to be clear, those percentages are not exclusive to Uber, but rather are fairly representative of Silicon Valley tech companies. Except now Uber pledged to throw $3 million at the problem in order to find solutions to make those numbers...better.

Bill Gates Is So Not Into President’s Budget Blueprint; Does Uber Have Some High-Level Job Openings?

Just letting you know…

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Chances are if Bill Gates is not into your budget blueprint, then maybe it’s worth it to make a few (hundred-billion dollar) changes to it.  Which explains one of the reasons why the world’s richest man is in DC today, to have a little chat with the President of the United States.  Bill Gates, who knows a thing or two, isn’t taking too kindly to President Trump’s budget blueprint, particularly the part about cutting foreign aid. Gates is of the very informed and highly researched opinion, that providing foreign aid not only assists the world’s poorest individuals, but it also helps Americans. A lot. Gates said as much in a recent TIME op-ed piece, explaining how foreign aid actually decreases global conflicts, strife and get this…political instability. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave you to make it. Feel free to leave it in the comments. In any case, Mr. Gates went on to say, “These projects [foreign aid] keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.” I think the philanthropist billionaire/Microsoft co-founder just might be onto something, no?

Outta here…

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As if a lawsuit from Google and claims of sexual harassment couldn’t make things any worse for Uber, things are about to get even more awkward – if that’s possible – with two very high-level execs saying buh-bye to the ride-hailing app. First we have President Jeff Jones, who is leaving after less than a year on the job. It seems that a few weeks ago, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced he was seeking new leadership, along with plans to install a new COO. Rumor has it that that bit might have had something to do with Jones untimely departure. In the meantime, Jones explained, in his own special spin that “…the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business.” You just know there’s an ugly, yet presumably very juicy story behind that articulate statement. But I guess we’ll just have o wait for the book to come out. Naturally, Uber officially thanked Jones and wished “him all the best” no doubt with the utmost sincerity. The other Uber exit is brought to us by Brian McClendon, who is set to ditch his post of Vice President of Maps and Business Platforms. Mr. McClendon announced plans to return to his native Kansas to pursue a career in politics. He’s apparently very disenchanted with the state of Kansas’ fiscal crisis and presumably the rest of the political climate. At least that’s the story he’s sticking to.

Buy buy baby…

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Well, at least somebody has finally stepped up who has a bit of faith in Snap Inc. Enter James Cakmak, a Wall Street analyst with the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt, who gave the app its very first – and only –  “buy” rating, slapping it with a $25 price target. And fyi, Snap identifies itself as a camera company. Got it? Having the dubious distinction of being crowned as the biggest tech IPO in two years, Snap managed to raise a whopping $3.4 billion its first day out. It went up almost 60% on its first day but since then came barreling back down over 25%. Its shares have been losing steam over concerns that the company has a ridiculously high valuation, yet grim prospects for profits. Cakmak graciously said that he’s giving Snap the benefit of the doubt because, even though he himself is unsure if Snap will be able to crank out an actual profit, he likes the way the company stacks up against its competitors. Awww.

 

Viacom Pulls Merger Plug; Trump’s Next Tweet Tackle Goes After Lockheed Martin; JetSmarter Channels Uber for Air Travel


On second thought…

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Today father-daughter Redstone team, Shari and Sumner, announced that they are no longer interested in a merger with sister company CBS. It was Shari Redstone who said as much in a letter from the family’s privately-held company National Amusements Inc.  She gets to do that sort of thing since, after all, she controls the voting shares of both Viacom and her dad, which altogether adds up to 80% of the voting stock. Wall Street wasn’t too happy about Viacom finding its own way sans CBS and not only sent the stock down 7%, it also took Viacom to a 52 week low. The two companies were actually merged once upon a time, but back in 2006 went into splitsville. Initially, the merger was meant to give Viacom a much needed boost. But the father-daughter duo decided to put the kibosh on the merger because they apparently developed renewed confidence in Viacom’s prospects under the leadership of its new CEO Bob Bakish. At least that’s how team Redstone spun it. However, rumor has it that it was because CBS chief Les Moonves wasn’t on board for a number of reasons. For one, Viacom was looking to get a premium on its shares and CBS wasn’t willing to pay for it. Also, Moonves wanted control of both companies along with increased equity and the Redstones weren’t too keen on giving him all that. Other sources say that Moonves wasn’t even interested in trying to fix Viacom. Had the merger gone through it would have resulted in a massive media giant.

F-35 you!

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President-elect Donald Trump’s latest Tweet target is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program. Naturally, his Tweet dumping on Lockheed Martin sent the stock south along with several other defense contractors. Trump said that come January 20th, he plans to save billions of dollars on the aircraft that he described as being “not very good” according to his very expert opinion. Lockheed Martin said that it already spent millions to reduce costs on the 5th generation fighter aircraft by more than 60% and  I am pretty sure there is a joke somewhere in there.  But it’s not just Trump who thinks the program’s costs are bananas. A voice of reason who we know as John McCain, and who also serves as the Senate Armed Services Chairman is critical of the program. He wrote a letter to the Pentagon challenging the $1 billion cost overrun for the program. But Lockheed Martin said that it creates 146,000 jobs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, besides the fact that analysts also feel the aircraft is necessary since Russia and China have highly advanced competitive fighter aircraft. We wouldn’t want to let them have the upper hand as far as our defense goes, now would we? There are six other countries who also use the jets and 3,000 planes are supposed to be built for the U.S. and other countries. The estimated cost of the program is about $400 billion and has the dubious distinction of being described as the most expensive weapons system in history. The fact that other countries participate in the program is supposed to help spread out the costs a little more. However, it’s not clear exactly how much their participation has helped the U.S.

Coffee, tea or Jay-Z?

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JetSmarter, a company that is basically Uber for flying privately can now count Jay-Z and the Saudi Royal family among its investors. The company has so far raised $157 million with $105 million raised just in its latest round.  JetSmarter founder and CEO Sergey Petrossov discovered a very lucrative opportunity when he realized that 35% of private planes have no passengers. With 50 routes in 30 cities around the world, JetSmarter wants to take its latest cash-infusion to expand into Asia, South America and Africa.  Plenty of other similar start-ups have failed so how come JetSMarter hasn’t? Apparently because seat prices on Jet Smarter change based on predictions about the popularity of certain routes and flight times. JetSmarter allows its members to buy empty plane seats from private jet companies and sell them through its app.  The company boasts 6,700 members and currently, a membership will set you back about $15,000 for the first year and $11,500 per year after that. But hey, that gets you an average of 12-15 flights per year. However, if you decide to create a charter flight or want to take a member created flight, that costs extra. And while the company does not own any of its own planes, it does have about 32,000 aircraft in its network with a $1.6 billion valuation.

Russia Says Nyet to LinkedIn; No Regrets for Macy’s on Ditching President-Elect’s Line; Trump Making Plans

Linked Out…

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It’s Game on between LinkedIn and Russia as the social network gets banned by the Russian government. Back in 2015 Russia passed a new law requiring foreign websites to store personal data of Russian users on Russian servers. While LinkedIn counts six million registered users in the country, the social media giant said no thank you to the new law and now finds itself listed in a very unflattering registry of websites that are banned in the country. Russia’s leaders would like to put an end to its dependance on foreign tech and is even in the process of developing replacements for such services like WhatsApp. In case it wasn’t obvious, Russia has been stepping up its control over internet usage in the last few years. In the meantime Google, eBay and Uber have been looking for ways to comply with the new law lest their fate ends up similar to that of LinkedIn. However, all eyes are on Facebook to see if and how the social media giant intends to deal with this lofty piece of legislation .

Trump’d Up…

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Today, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said that he stands by his decision to boot Donald Trump’s clothing line from his stores back in the summer of 2015. Trump had tried to retaliate by getting people to boycott the department store. But after all, Trump did say that many Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers and well, that’s just not cool. So needless to say, his calls to boycott weren’t all that successful. Well, maybe a little as Macy’s has been struggling to post some solid quarterly gains. In any case, the retailer has been trying to court more Hispanic shoppers and getting rid of a line of clothing from a man who has been nothing short of hostile and racist seems like a prudent move. To be fair, Lundgren says he would have had to get rid of Trump’s clothing line once he entered politics anyway, even if he hadn’t made his odious comments. Macy’s doesn’t do politics and Lundgren added that even if Hillary Clinton had her clothing own line – of pantsuits, presumably – that would have to go as well once she announced her political aspirations. Incidentally, Ivanka’s clothing line at Macy’s is alive and well, which seems only right considering she has yet to offend entire races of people. Also incidentally, Ivanka’s line is manufactured in China and the Donald just hates it when American businesses outsource manufacturing there. In fact, as part of his economic plans, he wants to impose harsh tariffs on imports in an effort to curb, or perhaps even obliterate the practice. Good luck with that one, Ivanka.

More Trump’d Up…

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In other Trump news, rumor has it that the President-Elect wants to install JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary. FYI, Dimon is a life-long Democrat and Obama supporter, although the arrival of the Dodd-Frank laws made him a less enthusiastic one. What’s so very peculiar about Trump’s choice is that he once criticized Dimon for his decision to settle civil suits against the bank. Donald is not one to settle court cases. At least that’s what he said. In the meantime, there’s no word from Jamie Dimon about whether he plans to accept. However, other rumors are swirling that he won’t as he was rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the election. And you know who probably wont be asked to join Trump’s government? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. As the owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos didn’t care for Trump’s opinions on the mainstream media bias and said Trump was “eroding our democracy.” Incidentally, Amazon’s stock went down today over 4%. Experts say it’s because all tech stocks, including Apple, Google and Microsoft took a beating today since Trump’s economic plans don’t do much for that sector. But the experts with a better sense of humor – and serious undertones – think the drop is because it’s payback time for Bezos and company, who for the most part don’t care for the President-Elect and were pretty vocal about it during campaign season. The tech sector employs a large population of foreign engineers and, well you know how Trump feels about that. Experts also think that companies like Amazon can expect payback in the form of higher taxes and anti-trust litigation. At least Bezos had the good sense to tweet: “I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country.” Maybe Bezos will get a pass this time. Wink wink, nod nod.

 

EU Wants to Take a Big Tax Bite Out of Apple; Google Takes On Uber. Sort of; Abercrombie & Fitch Teen Ditch

Bite me…

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The EU commission is coming down hard on Apple by slapping the world’s most valuable company with a $14.5 billion bill for back taxes. The EU felt Apple illegally received tax aid in the form of a sweetheart tax deal from Ireland. However, both Apple and Ireland deny that allegation and contend that everything they did was totally legit. More than 700 U.S. companies currently have some type of business set up in Ireland where they enjoy a reduced corporate tax rate compared to that of the U.S. The EU however says that rate is too reduced and says Apple pays much MUCH less than the 12.5% corporate tax rate in the country. Companies can set up tax structures that allow them to pay even less.  EU officials charge that Apple did just that and Apple paid only a .005% rate on its profits in 2014.  I’d love to meet Apple’s accountants who set that one up. Just saying. The U.S treasury isn’t happy about the situation either and feels U.S.firms are being unfairly targeted and that such investigations are unfair. Senator Chuck Schumer even called this latest judgement a “cheap money grab.” Don’t expect to bump into him on your next European vacay. According to the treasury, judgements of this type could undermine U.S. investments in Europe. Starbucks already got hit with a $33 million back-tax deal while Amazon and McDonald’s are currently staring at the wrong end of their own EU investigations. The government believes that U.S. taxpayers will likely bear the brunt of the EU’s very inconvenient decision because Apple would basically deduct the $14.5 billion from taxes that it owes to the U.S. government.

Anything you can do Google can do better…

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Search engine giant, Google, is now offering its own ride-sharing app to San Francisco residents. If you’re thinking Google’s encroaching on Uber and Lyft’s turf then…you might be right. Sort of. Google began a pilot program back in May that allows commuters to carpool at cheaper rates then Uber and Lyft. Much cheaper. In fact, the rates are so cheap – think 54 cents per mile – that there is no incentive to even become a taxi driver. What’s more is that Google doesn’t even take a cut. Yet. By using Waze, which Google acquired back in 2013, commuters connect with other commuters headed in the same direction. Uber, which is currently valued at around $68 billion might begin to take issue with Google’s latest plans, assuming they’ll expand. And they will. Ironically, Google invested $258 million into Uber back in 2013. The situation between the two companies has gotten quite dicey as Google exec David Drummond recently resigned from Uber’s board given all the conflicts that are rising from these latest developments.

Smells like twenty-something spirit…

 

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Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of trendy teen clothing, has officially posted its fourteenth straight quarter of losses. The company saw a decline of a 4%, which was more than what was expected. A&F posted a net loss of $13 million, which was a brutal change from last year’s same quarter loss of $810,000. Net sales fell to $783, a far cry from last year’s $818 million. Naturally, as with all bad earnings reports, a tumble in shares ensued, with shares of the trendy retailer taking a 20% hit. Besides a strong dollar, the chain can’t compete with the likes of H&M, Zara and a whole bunch of other clothing sellers. Back in May, the company had predicted an improvement. But that didn’t happen and now A&F isn’t even expecting one in the near future. Which might explain why the company will reshift its focus from teens to bona-fide money making twenty-somethngs who can afford the clothes A&F is selling. Considering that more than 50% of A&F’s customers are adults over the age of 20, this seems like a prudent move. So if you find yourself at one of A&F’s 744 locations – of which 60 of them will be closing –  you might not want to be so quick to walk away as the company attempts to rebrand itself as the “iconic American casual luxury brand.” I don’t know why that just made me think of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But it did.  The clothing company will be selling clothes for actual grown-ups who once upon a time were the same teens who spent their parents’ hard-earned cash at this very establishment.

 

 

France Says Non Vive La Uber; Smuckers Jells Up Some Tasty Earnings; Is Larry Page Channeling George Jetson?

Let them eat cake…

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Uber, the multi-billion dollar company that operates in 60 countries and can’t seem to stay out of legal trouble is making headlines, yet again. The ride-sharing app just got slapped with an almost million dollar fine – half of which was suspended – for running an illegal taxi service in France. But that fine is the least of Uber’s problems considering it just raised another $3.5 billion in funding. The French court took aim at Uber POP, an app that connects riders with nonprofessional drivers who use their own cars to transport passengers. Licensed taxi drivers in France took exception to the app and put pressure on French officials to bid adieu to Uber POP by getting the service suspended there last year. Last week, a German court also gave a big nein to Uber, upholding a previous ruling that banned Uber POP there for violating local transport laws. Besides Uber getting slapped with a big fine, two Uber execs also got hit to the tune of 50,000 euros, which is nothing compared to the five years of jail time and million dollar fine that they could have received. This case marks the first time that actual executives from the company had to stand trial. The employees were found guilty of deceptive commercial practices, acting as accomplices in operating an illegal transportation service and, just for good measure, violating privacy laws. That’s in addition to being held responsible for inciting others to break the law by employing them, causing riots and taxi strikes. However, this latest ruling is far from the company’s first legal tussle since it was founded in 2009. The company continues to grapple with numerous regulatory issues in Europe and Africa and there is a long road ahead. And in case you didn’t see it coming, Uber is appealing the French court’s ruling.

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…

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It’s just jelly to you but to its shareholders, it’s a profit of $191 million. I am talking about J.M. Smucker Co., whose latest earnings positively dazzled Wall Street, sending shares jumping 25% today, to a record high of $142.27. Of course, it wasn’t just an increased urge for PB&J’s, with Smucker’s Jif peanut butter, that sent those sales soaring. Dunkin’ Donuts Brand Coffee, Folgers Coffee and…wait for it…pet food figured prominently in Smucker’s epic 39% profit surge. Smucker’s coffee products account for the company’s biggest market and pulled down a 9% increase in the fourth quarter, while its pet foods, that include Meow Mix and Milk-Bone, accounted for a third of all sales. It helped that the company offered up plenty of promotions to drive demand for its K-cup offerings. The company’s acquisition of Big Heart Pet Brands last year also helped a lot to drive up the impressive earnings. Revenue surged 25% to $1.81 billion when analysts only expected $1.75 billion and Smucker’s added $1.44 to its shares when predictions were only for $1.20. Those earnings were especially welcome since last year at this time, the company posted a 41% profit loss.

Just because he can…

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Alphabet CEO, Larry Page is into cars. Especially if they can fly. These days, the Google co-founder is funding two companies that are currently building and tweaking prototypes of small, all electric planes that can take off and land similar to helicopters. Just like the flying saucers you saw on the Jetsons. Page has already plunked down $100 million into Zee.Aero, a start-up launched in 2010, that has been testing two prototypes in Hollister, California. But why fund just one company when you have the means to fund two? That’s why Larry Page has also poured money into Zee.Aero competitor, Kitty Hawk, led by Sebastian Thrun, the Google X founder who is also behind Google’s self-driving car program. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s sure to be a crowded race to the finish as there are at least a dozen other companies around the world that are hoping to churn out a similar prototype, well before Larry Page’s darlings.