A day before GM officially announced that the Astra production will be moved to Ellesmere Port, a move that is widely believed to seal the fate of Opel’s Bochum plant, we said that the decision won’t go down well in Germany, and that it will be very tough working with a doomed workforce. The workforce is already getting restive. (Read More…)
Ontario’s 2012 budget was released this morning, and while the United States under the Obama administration seems intent on boosting subsidies for alternative fuel vehicles, including EVs, those in the Great White North’s most populous province are able to see the writing on the wall with regards to EVs.
While U.S. Senators are wringing their hands and pounding their chests about EV know-how allegedly escaping to China, makers from other countries are doing business. The most recent EV entry is Honda. Honda will build an EV in China and sell it in China in 2012 “in limited quantities,” its R&D chief Toshihiro Mibe told TTAC in Chengdu. The electric vehicle will undergo tests this year. When ready, the EV will be launched under the Honda brand. When asked, Honda spokesperson Natsuna Asanuma was convinced that the Honda EV will qualify for Chinese subsidies.
Mibe dismissed know-how issues: “An EV is much simpler than a regular car. The only difference is the battery and the electric motor.” (Read More…)
The European Commission’s competition authority has a problem:
The Commission had to launch a formal investigation into aid for a large investment project by BMW for the manufacturing of electric cars. The formal investigation will allow the Commission to gain an insight into the emerging market of electric cars, a market for which it has not examined regional investment aid before.
A subsidy is a subsidy is a subsidy, right? Apparently not…
Cracks continued to in the ethanol industry’s once-impregnable political vanguard, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Senate has voted to roll back the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) as well as import tariffs on foreign-produced ethanol. This rollback of multi-billion-dollar ethanol credits failed earlier in the week, when the Detroit News reports automakers came out in opposition of a bill that would have required that 95% of all cars built in the US be capable of running 85% ethanol by 2017. The Senate did fail to pass a repeal of a government ethanol blending mandate that underpins the VEETC, however, and funding is moving forward for ethanol blending pumps. Still, the Senate’s repeal of VEETC alone means taxpayers could save over $5b per year on subsidies, and as one expert puts it
“Looks like we’re going to be relying on the biofuels mandates to make sure blenders use biofuels, rather than bribing them to use it with $6 billion,” [Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University] said.
In fact, Babcock thinks killing the subsidy could help ethanol because it would come out from the stigma of being a subsidized industry. And removing the subsidy may strengthen support for the mandate, and the tariff on imports.
Over to you, House of Representatives…
Over the course of TTAC’s coverage of US ethanol subsidies, I’ve often wondered why nobody made a political issue out of slaying an ever-growing waste of tax dollars ($6b this year on the “blender’s credit” alone). And with the political rhetoric about America’s debt prices rising, I’ve been wondering with more and more regularity when someone will finally take the ethanol fight to the American people, who are already voting against ethanol with their pocketbooks. But just last December, Al Gore explained why not even he, an environmentalist standard-bearer, could oppose the corn juice he knew was bad policy, saying
It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.
The Iowa primary is a key early contest in the Presidential election, and because Iowans grow and refine a huge amount of corn ethanol, campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa is a non-starter. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom was before today, when, with nearly nine months to go before the primary, the impossible just happened.
Though The Department of Energy has offered only the flimsiest of evidence for the practicability of President Obama’s electric vehicle goals, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is out writing checks about the future of EVs that the industry may not be able to cash. Speaking at the installation of the 500th ChargePointAmerica charging station in Southern California, Chu explained his vision for the future to the LA Times.
“Because of increased demand, we’ve got to think of all the other things we can do in transportation. The best is efficiency,” Chu said.
Batteries are the “heart” of electric vehicles, he said, adding that the Department of Energy is funding research that will drop the cost of electric-vehicle batteries 50% in the next three or four years and double or triple their energy density within six years so “you can go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a single charge,” he said. “These are magical distances. To buy a car that will cost $20,000 to $25,000 without a subsidy where you can go 350 miles is our goal.”
So, a 300+ mile car costing less than $25k without a subsidy, within the the 2017 time frame. Which essentially means that within six years, the Nissan Leaf would have to triple its range and lose the equivalent of the government subsidy’s $7,500 in costs. That’s not a wholly unreasonable goal, but what’s not clear is how it will be reached. After all, the Leaf is already behind on the government’s volume predictions, and starting next year the Volt will be too. A tripling of range in one long product cycle (or two short ones) seems as optimistic as the government’s EV volume projections, which imagine 120k Volts being produced next year, as well as 5,000 of the nonexistant Fisker “Nina” PHEV. Chu’s vision is commendable, but at this point the DOE’s credibility is more than a little strained when it comes to the future of EVs.
A massive study by the Government Accountability Office into “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” has turned up an interesting finding. It seems that the government’s desire to buy more “alternative fuel vehicles” (AFVs) may actually increase the amount of gasoline used by government fleets. Why? Because agencies largely buy E85 ethanol-powered vehicles to fulfill their AFV requirements, and there aren’t enough E85 pumps to actually fuel the fleet, forcing agencies to obtain waivers to buy regular gasoline. Hit the jump for the report’s full findings on this, the latest unintended consequence of America’s ongoing ethanol-subsidy boondoggle.
George Orwell’s warning, that “the first victim of war is the truth,” apparently applies equally to trade wars. On Friday, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow (both D-MI) wrote the United States Trade Representative to express their concern over “reported draft regulations” of China’s New Energy Vehicle plan, noting
We are concerned that these draft regulations continue China’s long history of breaking international trade rules.
Given that the ongoing low-level trade war between the US and China, this was a predictable bit of saber-rattling. But if Levin and Stabenow’s political motivations are easy to understand, the logic that leads them to believe China’s New Energy Vehicle plan is a violation of international trade rules is not. Meanwhile, neither the Senators nor the USTR appear not to have heard about another, more serious possible trade issue arising from China’s headlong dash towards electric vehicles. Sounds like a job for The Truth About Cars…
President Obama’s goal of putting one million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015 has faced serious challenges from day one, with several studies pointing out that the goal probably isn’t achievable without more government action.But up till now, President Obama has forwarded only one actual policy change aimed at achieving his goal, namely turning an existing $7,500 federal plug-in tax credit into a rebate, redeemable at the point of purchase (an idea first forwarded by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow). This plan should help drive a Cash-for-Clunker-style EV buying frenzy, as the rebate would not be dependent on the buyer’s tax burden. But Automotive News [sub] reports that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)
is very concerned [about the credit-to-rebate scheme] from an effectiveness standpoint.
Baucus doesn’t make a regular habit of opposing the President, but apparently his concerns about the Obama/Stabenow credit-to-rebate plan are serious enough for him to put politics aside.
How things change in a few years! Just a few short orbits of the sun ago, automakers like GM were some of the biggest boosters of ethanol subsidies. Now, the Detroit News reports
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – the trade association representing General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and eight others – opposes a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that would require 90 percent of all vehicles to run on E85 – a blend of 85 percent ethanol – by the 2016 model year.
Shane Karr, vice president for government affairs, said the mandate “would cost consumers more than $2 billion per year” for flex fuel vehicles if automakers passed on the full cost “even though consumers will have little or no access to alternative fuels. Therefore, such a mandate is essentially a tax with little consumer benefit.”
In the face of this new opposition, the Renewable Fuels Association has even taken to employing the rhetoric of market economics to justify market-manipulating ethanol subsidies. And it doesn’t seem to be convincing anyone. If anything, Harkin’s bill may just hasten the death of existing subsidies, which are under pressure as both Democrats and Republicans seek to trim the federal budget.
It’s been a bad week for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan program. First, the GAO slammed the program for weak oversight and a lack of performance metrics and professional expertise, and now the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News are unwinding a web of patronage that appears to be taking advantage of the program’s many shortcomings.
The investigation centers around Steve Westly, a fundraiser who “bundled” half a million dollars in donations to the Obama campaign, only to be given a spot on the DOE’s Energy Advisory Committee. From there, the CPI report alleges, Westly was instrumental in acquiring ATVM access for Tesla, a company that Westly sat on the board of from March 2007 until December 2009. Loans were given to Tesla when Westly was still serving on the board, and his firm, The Westly Group, has made millions on the sale of Tesla stock since the firm’s IPO. And it seems that most of the DOE loan recipients have some kind of connection to one Obama fundraiser or another, like John Doerr, who backs Fisker, another ATVM loan recipient. Meanwhile, smaller firms allege that their requests for loans were simply ignored, and with the GAO knocking the program for treating applicants “inconsistently,” it seems that some kind of favoritism is afoot. But then, isn’t that how Washington works?
Though it appears that it may take even more government stimulus to achieve President Obama’s goal of putting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, online auto juggernaut Edmunds has come out against existing EV tax credits in a commentary by CEO Jeremy Anwyl. Anwyl’s argument is rooted in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy‘s finding that the tax credit-qualifying Chevy Volt is only the 13th-greenest vehicle on the market while its greenest, the natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX, remains unsubsidized. Anwyl argues
The problem is this: When the government picks a technology, it crowds out development of other, potentially promising alternatives, like the natural gas engine used in the Honda Civic GX (above). LNG is not a new technology. I had friends who converted their vehicle to natural gas back in the Seventies. But how much are we hearing about it today? Or what about hydrogen fuel cells? A few years back, they were the stars of the major auto shows. Were any fuel-cell vehicles on display at the recent Detroit auto show? No. Every automaker was busy touting EVs.
By gobbling up EVs, GE certainly helps to jump-start the industry, but they also gobble up future tax credits that consumers would have gotten, unless GE opts to forego the EV tax credit. Which would be bad business.
Yup, GE’s huge EV buy will be good for GE… but it won’t be so great for the 25,000 Americans whose tax credit will slurped up in the process. After all, the credit expires after a manufacturer sells 200k qualifying vehicles, so every credit GE uses brings GM and Nissan that much closer to the day they have to ask consumers to pay full price for their pricey EVs. No wonder GM is already pushing for an extension of the credit past 200k units.
No automaker has more to gain –and lose– in the early-adopter EV game than Renault-Nissan, and CEO Carlos Ghosn knows how the game is played. Nissan is investing $4b to rollout electric cars in the US, Japan and select Western European markets at the end of this year, but despite being committed, Ghosn insists that EVs aren’t ready to stand on their own yet.He tells Automotive News [sub] that
These are mature markets where governments give incentives to consumers. Two years of government support are needed to jump-start these markets and then the products will grow on their own and take off