GM refuses Canada’s billions in auto loans
Automaker’s move ‘shocks’ analyst
Damian adds: meanwhile, down south:
…Ford announced it would bring an electric car to the market by 2011. Chrysler, bleeding so much red ink that it gave away 35% of its equity stake to Fiat for free last week, unveiled three new electrics. And GM — the clear winner of the electric horse-race — rolled out its latest Chevrolet Volt, while also announcing that marketing this $40,000 plug-in with its “extended” driving range of 40 miles by next year is a top priority. The company is planning to build a $30 million battery factory in Michigan — instead of outsourcing production to Asian makers.
Yet until recently, GM was protesting Washington’s green mandates. Vice Chairman Bob Lutz called global warming a “total crock” and declared that hybrids made “no economic sense.” This week, asked by a reporter how a cash-strapped company could afford to build a battery factory, Mr. Lutz responded: “We can’t, but we’re doing it anyway. It’s one of the pieces of our future that we absolutely have to do.”
Why? A study last week by the Boston Consulting Group found that extended-range, all-electric vehicles like the Volt will account for no more than 5% of the North American market by 2020 (assuming last year’s peak oil prices and $7,500 in tax credits for electric car buyers). Hybrids, around for almost a decade, today command less than 2% of the market.
But GM is not counting on market success for its comeback. It has neither the cash reserves nor the brilliant product line needed for that in a down economy, when sales are expected to be 40% lower than two years ago (the lowest volume since the 1973 Arab oil embargo).
GM is counting on the government to stay alive. It could potentially recover all of its investment in the new battery facility from a $335 million state program to bring green jobs to Michigan. This will allow it to impress Pelosi and Co. and perhaps extract more federal taxpayer money. For example, the $825 billion bag of goodies — otherwise known as the stimulus package — that Congress is working on contains $11 billion for electricity infrastructure needed for the wide-scale adoption of electric cars, as well as $2 billion in loans to build “advanced vehicles and battery systems.”
…once the Volt and its sister electrics pile up in showrooms, the government will face this choice: Admit failure and abandon its investments in electrics — or blame the failure on insufficient intervention and redouble efforts to push electric cars. GM is betting that with Democrats in control of both the White House and Congress, Washington will move toward more assistance for auto makers and mandates, such as gas taxes, on consumers.
Republicans, too, are jumping on the fuel-economy bandwagon in the name of energy independence. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — who led the effort to torpedo the auto bailout last year — is a big believer in this cause and was excited by the fuel-efficient cars he saw at the auto show. He said in an interview that some kind of a regime to lower carbon emissions will be imposed in the next 12 to 18 months. “That will go a long way toward aligning the choices of car buyers with national energy priorities,” he said.
The Volt is calculated to position GM as the chief partner in Washington’s emerging green industrial policy. This might keep it in business — but the price will be paid by taxpayers and the car-buying public.
Obama’s Order Is Likely to Tighten Auto Standards