Business Briefs – March 13, 2016

 Google Is Hitting the Road — Literally — for User Feedback

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google is about to embark on an old-school search, swapping its internet algorithm for a custom-built van that will cruise across the U.S. to find out how people use its online services and react to new features.

The white van emblazoned with Google’s colorful logo is scheduled to pull out Monday on a six-week road trip and help the company break out of its Silicon Valley bubble. The van will make multiday stops in seven states, stopping near colleges, libraries, parks and more in hopes of finding out how average Americans are using the company’s digital offerings.

U.S. Rig Count Drops 9 This Week to All-Time Low of 480

HOUSTON (AP) – The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. declined by 9 this week to 480, a record low and another sign of the continuing economic woes in the oil and gas industry.

At the recent boom’s height in 2014, the count had climbed to 1,931. But it has steadily fallen since then as oil prices plunged. The rig count is seen as an important indicator of the strength and stability of energy prices and the health of the oil and gas industry.

Ford Establishing Subsidiary To Invest in New Mobility

DETROIT (AP) – Ford Motor Co. said Friday that it is establishing a Silicon Valley-based subsidiary to build and invest in new mobility options like car-sharing and ride-hailing services.

Ford Smart Mobility LLC will be chaired by former Steelcase CEO Jim Hackett, who has been a member of Ford’s board since 2013. Hackett resigned his board seat Friday to lead the new company. Ford Smart Mobility plans to name a CEO in the near future.

The company will operate in Palo Alto, California, and Ford’s hometown of Dearborn, Michigan.

 SEC Accuses Oregon Firm Of Running Ponzi Scheme

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sued an Oregon company and its top executives on accusations they operated a $350 million Ponzi scheme.

The SEC says executives from Aequitas Capital Management told clients they were using their money for investment purposes but executives instead used the money to fund their lucrative salaries, repay prior investors and pay expenses, including a private jet and golf outings.

The suit filed Thursday in Portland comes a month after Aequitas announced layoffs and hired a consulting firm to wind-down the business.

FDA Expands Use of Pfizer Drug For Rare Form of Lung Cancer

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Food and Drug Administration expanded approval of a Pfizer drug to treat a small subset of lung cancer patients with a rare mutation.

The agency said Friday that Xalkori capsules are now approved for patients with the ROS-1 gene mutation, who make up about 1 percent of U.S. patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of the disease.

The twice-a-day drug is part of a new generation of medications that fight disease by targeting specific genes found in certain patients.