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Obama MTP Interview: Obama Big Three automakers ‘strategic mistakes’

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President-elect Barack Obama, right, with Budget Director-designate Peter Orszag, left, during a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama, right, with Budget Director-designate Peter Orszag, left, during a news conference in Chicago, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

With the economy deteriorating rapidly, the nation’s employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the 11th consecutive monthly decline, the government reported Friday morning, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent.

The decline, the largest since December 1974, was fresh evidence that the economic contraction accelerated in November, promising to make the current recession, already 12 months old, the longest since the Great Depression. The previous record was 16 months, in the severe recessions of the mid-1970s and early 1980s.

“We have recorded the largest decline in consumer confidence in our history,” said Richard T. Curtin, director of the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey of Consumers, which started its polling in the 1950s. “It is being driven down by a host of factors: falling home and stock prices, fewer work hours, smaller bonuses, less overtime and disappearing jobs.”

The employment report increased the likelihood that Congress, with the support of President-elect Barack Obama, will enact a stimulus package by late January that could exceed $500 billion over two years. More than half that money would probably be channeled into public infrastructure spending. Many economists consider such investments an effective way to counteract, through federally financed employment, the layoffs and hiring freezes spreading through the private sector.

“Basically $100 billion of public investment in such things as roads, bridges and levees would generate two million jobs,” Robert N. Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, said. “That would offset the two million jobs that we are now on track to lose by early next year.”

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Car execs grilled by Congress on transport to hearing

See no exhaust pipe! 0-60 3.6 seconds! Cost $4 per 240 mile charge to run!

Tesla Roadster: See no exhaust pipe! 0-60 3.6 seconds! Cost $4 per 240 mile charge to run!

I think the whole aim of the car industry has been to keep us on oil – and so for years they have been suppressing any and all viable alternatives. While we advance in leaps and bounds in computers and technological industries — aside from the outer cover and some new electronics – cars have virtually stayed the same. In today’s technological world this is unacceptable.

Not surprisingly sympathy is thin on the ground for the Big Three automakers – and in order to survive they are going to have to decouple from the oil industry. This is where policy comes in – as the Bush administration has been all about oil – and how to get us all to spend more on it – he got his wish – but it was a bit like the king who touched his daughter and turned her into gold. Up until recently the whole aim was to make us believe – that we needed more and more of this oil – this coming directly from the addict-in-chief. The mindset is so bad – that at the RNC you had Republicans chanting Drill Baby Drill, because the thought of a technological way around the oil – is unthinkable to them. 50 years down the line they still see us using the same technology – needing roughly the same amount of oil. Palin – an oil addict and others like herself – first need to line up the belief that we need this oil and we can not do without it – for a long long time – then they place themselves in the position to be the providers of that oil. Even better than the measly cash that a guy would make as a lobbyist. This is like Beverly HillBillies’ cash – no wonder they are addicted.

But here is the trap for the car industry – The Big Three – Republicans are into little or no government intervention – their philosophy is bankruptcy would do them good – ironically the Drill Baby Drill – was for the hungry engines the Big Three were making – that they refused to modernize [in ways that inventors have done time and time agian in their garages] – more a Republican-conservative idea – oh the betrayal!

On the other hand the Democrats’ position – is that the Big Three have been too arrogant for too long – and they are actually holding up real progress – if you want us to bail you out – then we are going to have to see some electric cars, some hybrid/electrics and cars that are going to largely bypass the burning fossil fuels to run. The oil addicts should be getting really uncomfortable – but these are the same guys who are willing to let the car companies fail.

Alternatively, by letting the car industry collapse – the Obama administration can then divert more funds to the smaller car industry – which are willing to produce the cars of the future – like the Tesla.

Porsche (eRuf Model A) the first fully electric version of the car.

Porsche (eRuf Model A) the first fully electric version of the car.

This whole bailout/loan deal with the auto-industry will hinge on what kind of plan these automakers will come back with in two weeks – we can only hope that it will not be a plan to help the oil industry – but one with a view of the future – that will instead help themselves and the people who will be driving their cars. I’m all for the fully electric SUV. Who says we have to make them small – just energy efficient. Today the best car batteries can take us 200 miles/300 km on a single charge – tomorrow 400 miles/600 km on a single charge? We may end up having to charge our cars once a week – today it cost 2¢/mile to run – tomorrow it might 2¢/10 miles? If the present car industry isn’t willing to do it – perhaps we need an alternative car industry.   


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No v. 21 (Bloomberg) — President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team is exploring a swift, prepackaged bankruptcy for automakers as a possible solution to the industry’s financial crisis, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A representative of Obama’s team has already contacted at least one bankruptcy-law firm to say that Daniel Tarullo, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school who heads Obama’s economic policy working group, would call to discuss the workings of a so-called prepack, according to this person.

U.S. lawmakers yesterday delayed until December a vote on whether to give General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC a $25 billion bailout. GM today said it would idle production at four plants an extra week and return some corporate jets to conserve cash. Automakers could use a judge-supervised bankruptcy to reduce debt and reject expensive contracts.

“It creates the environment to deal with GM’s problems but limits government financial commitment,” said bankruptcy lawyer Mark Bane of Ropes & Gray in New York.

Bankruptcy is just one option being examined. Obama told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” on Nov. 16 that government aid to automakers might come in the form of a “bridge loan,” advanced if the industry could draw up plan to make itself “sustainable.” The president-elect earlier urged Congress to approve as much as $50 billion to save automakers, using the model of Chrysler’s bailout in 1979.

Tarullo referred questions on a prepack to the transition team press office. Team spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said, “We have not put out anything specific for the auto industry except that something needs to be done immediately.”

No Cash

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, said it might run out of cash as early as the end of the year and that the risk was even greater by mid-2009. GM Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner said this week GM would have to liquidate if it filed for bankruptcy.

The automaker probably has weeks rather than months left before it runs out of money unless it gets federal aid, Jerome York, an adviser to billionaire Kirk Kerkorian and a former GM board member, told Bloomberg Television yesterday.

In a prepackaged bankruptcy, an automaker would go into court with financing in hand after reaching agreement with lenders, workers and suppliers on what each would give up and on the business plan to be followed. The process might take six to 12 months, compared with two to five years if the automakers followed an ordinary Chapter 11 proceeding and worked out agreements under a judge’s supervision, Bane said.

Government Financing

Automakers would have to depend on government financing to restructure in bankruptcy court and probably couldn’t attract private loans until they were ready to emerge from the process, Bane said.

Officials of the three automakers told members of Congress this week that they had studied a pre-arranged bankruptcy, championed by Republican lawmakers such as Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, before dismissing the idea as unworkable.

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Mr Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said yesterday that the plight of automakers was one of a number of issues discussed in a two-hour meeting with Mr Bush to discuss the transfer of power at a time of war and financial crisis. Other issues included housing, mortgage foreclosures, and, more generally, “the need to get the economy back on track”.

The parlous state of the American car industry was highlighted last Friday when General Motors – the biggest US car manufacturer – reported a $2.5 billion net loss for the third quarter, bringing its total losses to nearly $57 billion since the beginning of 2005.

Ford Motor Company’s $129 million quarterly loss, meanwhile, brought to nearly $24.5 billion the deficit it has run up since plunging into the red in 2006. The privately-held Chrysler LLC is also thought to be fast running out of cash – one reason, analysts believe, why its parent, Cerberus Capital Management, was so eager to sell Chrysler to General Motors.

The New York Times, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussion, said that Mr Obama went into his post-election meeting with Mr Bush primed to urge him to support emergency aid for the car industry.

The Bush Administration is reluctant to give carmakers access to the bailout fund, even though the Democrats say it could legally do so.

Linking the issue with the Colombia free trade deal could delay any move until after Mr Obama’s inauguration on January 20. US union leaders oppose the agreement because of numerous murders of trade unionists in Colombia at the hands of right-wing paramilitary squads closely linked to the Colombian armed forces.

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For decades, the success of NASCAR’s brand of high-octane, fender-banging stock-car racing has been intertwined with the fortunes of the U.S. automotive industry. NASCAR victories represented a nod to Detroit’s ingenuity. And showroom sales, in turn, were credited to the exploits on race day. As the marketing adage went: “What wins on Sunday, sells on Monday!”

But with the Big Three U.S. automakers struggling to survive, they have begun to dramatically scale back their financial involvement in NASCAR, threatening the economic model that has driven the sport’s popularity. Other corporate sponsors that helped transform stock-car racing from a workingman’s pastime into the country’s dominant form of auto racing also are scaling back their investment as a result of the sagging economy. Some companies may not renew their commitments — many of which run more than $10 million — when current contracts expire.

Source: HP