Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chrysler to Receive $8 Billion More in Government Aid to Make it Through Bankruptcy


Chrysler will file for bankruptcy after talks with a small group of creditors crumbled just a day before a government deadline for the automaker to come up with a restructuring plan, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

The Obama administration said it had long hoped to stave off bankruptcy for the nation's third largest automaker, but it became clear that a holdout group wouldn't budge on proposals to reduce Chrysler's $6.9 billion in secured debt. Clearing those debts was a needed step for Chrysler to restructure by the Thursday deadline.

Chrysler will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in New York, giving Chrysler time to galvanize a partnership with the Italian car maker Fiat Group SpA. The government, which has already poured $4 billion in loans into Chrysler, would provide up to $8 billion more to carry the company through bankruptcy, said senior administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity. The government will also help appoint a new board of directors.

The deals give Chrysler "a new lease on life," President Barack Obama said.

"This is not a sign of weakness," he said. "I have eery confidence that Chrysler will emerge from this process stronger and more competitive."

Under bankruptcy, Chrysler would still sell cars and the government would back its auto warranties.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the terms of the bankruptcy had not yet been released, said there would be no job losses or plant closing due to the Chapter 11. But it will be up to Fiat and Chrysler to decide whether to restructure the steadily shrinking company.

Obama said Chrysler Financial, the arm of the company that makes loans to buyers and to dealers to finance their inventories, will be merged into GMAC Financial Services, once General Motors Corp.'s finance arm. The new GMAC will get government support.

The Treasury Department's auto task force has been racing in the past week to clear the major hurdles that prevented Chrysler from coming up with a viable plan to survive the economic crisis ravaging nation's automakers.

Along with the Fiat deal, the United Auto Workers ratified a cost-cutting pact Wednesday night.

Treasury reached a deal earlier this week with four banks that hold the majority of Chrysler's debt in return for $2 billion in cash.

But the administration said about 40 hedge funds that hold roughly 30 percent of that debt also needed to sign on for the deal to go through. Those creditors said the proposal was unfair and they were holding out for a better deal.

A person briefed on Wednesday night's events said the Treasury Department and the four banks tried to persuade the hedge funds to take a sweetened deal of $2.25 billion in cash. But in the end, this person said most thought they could recover more if Chrysler went into bankruptcy and some of its assets were sold to satisfy creditors. This person asked not to be identified because details of the negotiations have not been made public.

Fiat will obtain a 20 percent stake in Chrysler in return for giving the company access to its fuel-efficient technology, a move toward cleaner cars that the Obama administration thinks is critical to Chrysler's future survival. The company has committed to building Fiat cars in Chrysler factories, to be sold as Chryslers.

The bankruptcy will be filed under a section of the law that allows a company to shed bad assets and some liabilities. The administration expects it to last only up to 60 days.

Obama's auto task force in March rejected Chrysler's restructuring plan and gave it 30 days to make another effort, including a tie-up with Fiat. The company has borrowed $4 billion from the federal government and needs billions more to keep operating.

The UAW agreement, which would take effect May 4, meets Treasury requirements for continued loans to Chrysler Corp., and includes commitments from Fiat to manufacture a new small car in one of Chrysler's U.S. facilities and to share key technology with Chrysler.

Meanwhile, the Fiat partnership means Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli could be out of a job. In an April e-mail to employees, he said that if the deal is completed, Chrysler would be run by a new board appointed by the government and Fiat. The new board, Nardelli wrote, would pick a CEO "with Fiat's concurrence."

Sergio Marchionne, CEO of the Italian automaker, told reporters earlier this month that he could run Chrysler. Obama said Wednesday that Fiat's management "has actually done a good job transforming their industry."

___


Source: Yahoo News

Chrysler to Seek Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection


Chrysler LLC will proceed with Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection now that talks with debt holders have broken down, an administration official said today.

Chrysler also appears close to wrapping up its partnership agreement with Italian automaker Fiat S.p.A. by a U.S.-ordered midnight deadline.

President Barack Obama and the federal auto task force are scheduled to make a statement on the Chrysler reorganization today at noon.

Chrysler this morning still had not gained the bondholder support it needs to move forward with a restructuring and avoid the first-ever bankruptcy filing by a Detroit 3 automaker. Talks among those parties and the U.S. Treasury broke down overnight despite a sweetened Treasury offer.

An administration official with knowledge of the talks said the holdout creditors were provided a final opportunity to approve an increased offer of $2.25 billion in cash, up from $2 billion, in exchange for writing off all of Chrysler's $6.9 billion in secured debt. They were given a deadline of 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"While the Administration was willing to give the holdouts a final opportunity to do the right thing, the agreement of all other key stakeholders ensured that no hedge fund could have a veto over Chrysler's future success," the official said.

"Their failure to act in either their own economic interest or the national interest does not diminish the accomplishments made by Chrysler, Fiat and its stakeholders, nor will it impede the new opportunity Chrysler now has to restructure and emerge stronger going forward."

Prospects for an alliance with Fiat were enhanced when UAW workers voted to approve concessions late Wednesday. Italian newspaper Corriere Della Serra reported Thursday morning that a deal with Fiat had been signed, but Fiat later denied this.

While getting a Fiat deal done is a key part of Chrysler's historic day, bondholders still hold the key.

"I think there is reasonable optimism that (a deal between Fiat and Chrysler) can be closed with an announcement perhaps even by President Obama today," Italian Industry Minister Claudio Scajola told Italian television on Thursday.

Chrysler, owned by Cerberus Capital Management LP, is among the world car industry's weakest players. Its plight reflects a slump in demand facing an industry whose $2.6 trillion annual revenue is equivalent to the GDP of France and which employs over 9 million people.

Obama more hopeful

On Wednesday, Obama said concessions by Chrysler's unions and its major bank lenders had made him more hopeful than a month ago that the automaker could be made viable.

But he added it was still not clear if Chrysler would need to seek bankruptcy protection to cement concessions from lenders and move ahead with the Fiat deal.

The White House has set a series of aggressive targets for Chrysler in order to justify another $6 billion in investment on top of $4 billion in emergency loans the government has extended since the start of the year.

The No. 3 U.S. automaker has also won cost-cutting concessions from its Canadian union. Putting Chrysler and Fiat together would give the combined group annual sales of some 4.16 million vehicles, making it equal with Hyundai and behind Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks a carmaker needs to produce at least 5.5 million cars a year to survive.

Under the terms of the proposed partnership, Fiat would get access to the U.S. market and a minority stake in Chrysler in exchange for the technology to make small cars and access to overseas markets. No cash would change hands.

Scajola said the Chrysler deal would also give the Italian company "good cards" to play in a reorganization of the European car sector, where speculation has linked Fiat to France's Peugeot and the Opel unit of GM.

Sweeter deal for bondholders

But in the final stretch before the deadline for a deal, the focus for Chrysler was on ongoing debt restructuring talks spearheaded by the Obama administration's autos task force and former investment banker Steve Rattner.

In a bid to win over three fund management firms that had spurned an offer to accept $2 billion in cash in exchange for writing off all of Chrysler's $6.9 billion in secured debt, U.S. officials sweetened the terms by throwing in another $250 million, people involved in those discussions said.

About 45 financial institutions hold Chrysler's secured debt.

Chrysler's race to restructure has played out as a kind of prelude to the slower-moving process under way for GM.

GM, which has been kept in operation with $15.4 billion of U.S. government funding, has until June 1 to push ahead with its own restructuring which includes plans to shrink its U.S. dealership network by 40 percent in less than two years.

Source:Automotive News


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama May Announce Chrysler Banruptcy on Thursday



Well, for better or worse, it looks as if one of the Big Three is about ready to go under. Not really surprising, but one has to wonder what the aftershocks will be like.

From Automotive News:

President Obama is planning to announce Thursday morning that Chrysler LLC will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it completes an alliance with Fiat S.p.A., Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal said two versions of Obama's speech are being prepared -- one if Chrysler files for protection and another if it avoids bankruptcy.

A government source familiar with the negotiations said Chrysler will survive and avoid liquidation but whether it will file for bankruptcy hasn't been determined. A spokesman for Cerberus Capital Management LP, Chrysler's majority owner, declined to comment.

"We're not in a position to comment," said Todd Goyer, a Chrysler spokesman.

The U.S. Treasury Department has reached an agreement with Chrysler's largest creditors to cancel $6.9 billion of debt in exchange for $2 billion in cash. But the deal still must get unanimous approval from all the debt holders.

A person knowledgeable about the talks said Oppenheimer Funds, Perella Weinberg Partners and Stairway Capital are the holdouts.

The Michigan congressional delegation and the administration are in contact with the holdouts in an attempt to get them to reach a deal, this person said.

Spokespersons for the three lenders did not return phone calls today.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., today estimated the likelihood of a Chrysler bankruptcy as 50-50.

"The higher the threat of death is, the more likely it can be worked out," he said. "The wild card is whether any of the remaining bond holders have taken out insurance policies that pay them in full if Chrysler fails. If anybody benefits more from a bankruptcy than from no bankruptcy, then you have a problem stopping it."

Cole said beyond the remaining bondholders, the Obama administration must still negotiate a deal with the dealers it insists Chrysler eliminate to avoid a bankruptcy. That virtually impossible to do quickly with any dealers, but if Obama's team can find a settlement pattern before the deadline -- cash or perhaps equity in Chrysler -- the details could be worked out later, Cole said.

Obama in St. Louis

In St. Louis earlier today, Obama said he was hoping a merger would be worked out between Chrysler and Fiat, but said he was not sure "if the deal is going to get done."

"We're hoping we can get a merger where the taxpayers will put in some money to sweeten the deal but ultimately the goal is -- we get out the business of building cars and Chrysler goes and starts creating the cars that consumers want," Obama said in a town-hall style meeting near St. Louis.

"We don't know yet whether the deal is going to get done," Obama said. "I will tell you that the workers at Chrysler have made enormous sacrifices -- enormous sacrifices -- to try to keep the company going.

"One of the key questions now is, are the bond holders, the lenders, the money people, are they willing to make sacrifices, as well? We don't know yet, so there's still a series of negotiations that are taking place."

Earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters:

"Hurdles still remain, but we remain optimistic and hopeful that something in the next many hours will get done that will provide a pathway for Chrysler's viability without continued government assistance."

Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli, in a letter to employees today, said Chrysler continues to make progress in its efforts to complete the proposed alliance with Fiat.

"If approved, it would clear a significant hurdle on our continuing journey toward long-term success, but the proposed agreement still needs to be approved by all of the secured lenders," Nardelli said in the memo.

Chrysler allies were buoyed by the framework deal, but the near-term future of the American icon hinged on several parts coming together, before Thursday's U.S. government deadline, to prove that the company can be viable again.

Chrysler's more than 40 lenders were performing due diligence on the terms, a source with knowledge of the banks' review has said.

The development with lenders came after a weekend agreement between Chrysler and the UAW to modify the union's labor contract and reduce the amount of money Chrysler would need to contribute to a retiree healthcare trust.

"The UAW leadership unanimously approved a tentative new labor agreement with the company and has sent the agreement on to local union members who will vote (Wednesday) on its ratification," Nardelli said in the memo

If the contract changes are ratified, the UAW's retiree health care trust would end up owning 55 percent of the automaker.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

GM Will Lose 25% of its Hybrid Vehicles When Saturn Closes



When General Motors closes down Saturn later this year, it will lose just over a quarter of its sales of fuel-saving hybrids -- the type of vehicles that the Obama administration wants automakers to build more of.

This is not what GM needs right now if they are going to change their image. Not only will they lose the Saturn hybrids, they will also lose some of their most fuel efficient lineup.

And it's not yet clear how the end of Saturn affects GM's ability to meet toughening corporate average fuel economy standards. Because Saturn does not offer a V-8 engine or have trucks or body-on-frame SUVs, it is GM's most fuel-efficient North American division.

Saturn currently sells mild hybrid versions of the Saturn Vue crossover and Aura sedan and last year was second in total hybrid sales among GM's divisions. Chevrolet, with sales of 5,838 hybrids was No. 1.

Saturn had planned to add a more advanced hybrid version of the Vue this summer. But that vehicle, which uses a front-wheel-drive version of GM's acclaimed Two Mode transmission, is now canceled. So is the plug-in version of the Vue, which had been due in 2010.

GM said today that all Saturn production will end with the 2009 model year.

GM does not break out sales of its hybrids. But the National Renewable Energy Laboratory does track sales of individual models. In 2008, GM sold 11,454 hybrids, of which 3,205 were Saturns. The rest were hybrid versions of the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe.

No technology transfer plans

A source with knowledge of GM hybrid plans said hybrid powertrains won't migrate immediately to any of GM's four surviving brands: Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC.

"There will be no technology transfer from Saturn," the source said. "There is a lot of doubt internally as to what comes to production. Everything is in the air. Everything goes through the government."

But Mark LaNeve, GM's North American sales chief, said today that Saturn's hybrid technology could end up in any of the company's four surviving brands.

"Any of the four core brands could get our technology," LaNeve told Automotive News. "There's not a hybrid in Saturn that is exclusive to Saturn. Nothing changes there, unless someone who buys Saturn says we want us to continue building hybrids for this brand and we agree to do it."

After Saturn is discontinued, GM will offer the Chevrolet Malibu mild hybrid and Two Mode versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups as well as the three full-sized Two Mode SUVs.

The fwd version of the Two Mode now likely will not be produced until 2011, said the GM source, who is familiar with the company's hybrid plans. GM officials are deciding which division, Buick or GMC, will get the fwd Two Mode transmission.

The mild hybrid system provides a slight boost upon acceleration and offers a stop-start feature. GM's mild hybrids offer about a 20 percent fuel economy gain. The Two Mode version can drive the vehicle on electric power alone and would have delivered a fuel economy gain of at least 30 percent.

CAFE average won't take big hit

John O'Dell, an analyst at Edmunds.com who tracks green cars, said the loss of Saturn's hybrids might hurt GM's CAFE average initially. But the hit would not be too harsh because GM is also phasing out its Hummer and Pontiac brands, which have several models that get poor fuel economy.

"They've made it clear from their recovery plan that the Chevrolet Volt is GM's fuel economy future," O'Dell said. "We know GM has many more vehicles than the Volt in its arsenal that has a Volt-style extended-range powertrain."

O'Dell said he expects GM to deploy some of Saturn's hybrid powertrains in other vehicles.

Dan Becker, director of the nonprofit Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, told Automotive News that GM could not rely only on its plug-in hybrid Volt car, due to launch at the end of next year, because its impact on the market will be "minuscule."

GM will have to come up with new fuel-efficient models to try to keep pace with Toyota, Honda and Ford, among others, Becker said.


Source: Automotive News

Chevy Volt Mule Test Drive




The 2010 Chevy Volt







Lyle Dennis, the founder of GM-Volt.com recently was allowed a test drive in the pre-production Chevrolet Volt. He has nothing but high praise for the vehicle after his ride and feels GM is on track with this breakthrough electric car.

From GM-Volt.com:

There are a few events in every lifetime that will be remembered forever. In some cases these events are the celebration of an achievement, of a reward earned.

Such was that early Spring morning in 2009 that I pulled past the bold blue and white military-like sign that read Milford Proving Grounds. For this was the day I test drove the Chevy Volt mule.

From that in many ways distant day in January 2007, when I first saw a news report about the Chevy Volt and was so inspired to register the domain GM-Volt.com to this day some 26 months and 900 articles later I and many of you my most revered readers and copilots have essentially been waiting for this landmark moment.

Inside the proving grounds I met my guide and co-pilot Greg Ceisel. Greg is the Chevy Volt program manager and had been involved since its early days.

After a brief tour of the Proving Grounds and and overview of it 130 or so miles of top secret test track, he took me into a building about the size of an airplane hanger. We walked into the electric vehicles section and there before me were a half a dozen Volt mules with varying appearance and states of disrepair and several plug-in Saturn Vues.

My Volt was silver blue and adorned with special white Volt graphics. This vehicle was the same one former CEO Rick Wagoner had famously driven through the streets of DC to testify before Congress, and the same one that members of the President’s Task Force on Autos had driven. Politics in these dire times for GM had to come before their fans.

This vehicle is in the second generation of test cars, having been built after the first batch which were cruder “Malivolts.” About 30-odd of these cars were in existence. They contained nearly finalized Volt powertrains including 16 kwh lithium-ion battery packs, 111 peak kw electric motors and 53 kw engine generators. This was not a Chevy Volt in interior or exterior design, but rather they were European-version Chevy Cruze compact sedans. The Cruze uses the same compact delta platform as the Volt and shares similar interior dimensions. Aerodynamically the Cruze has a higher coefficient of drag so true 40 mile AERs are not achieved but “come very close” per Mr. Ceisel.

After a brief tour, it was my turn to drive.

The car is started by a push button that lights green, no key is needed, and the turn-on process is utterly silent.

The interior was sufficiently roomy and comfortable, and nicely ergonomically designed. It was lacking the elegant high-tech and sophisticated double LCD display the production Volt has, and all the sure to be wonderful bells and whistles the production Volt will have. There was no engine/battery feedback for the driver. Technicians normally would connect a laptop to the mule to monitor, manage, and tweak the cars behavior. This interface had been removed for my drive. My only feedback was Km/h on the speedometer and number of miles driven.

The mule was like the Volt, functionally a four-seater, the T-shaped battery pack running down the middle was low enough that the rear seat bench had no bulge, but legroom in the center of the bench was replaced by the battery.

Once started there was only a very slightly scarcely audible and occasional whir within the engine compartment but was overall strikingly and serenely silent.

And then with one small step for man and one large step for mankind and with the collective goodwill of the thousands of you GM-Volt readers on this journey with me, I depressed the accelerator.

Instant silent and sustained torque ensued.

The car had considerable brisk acceleration and power. It was smooth as silk and utterly quiet. It was truly a marvelous thing of beauty. I sailed up hills and muscled around the curves of the sterile and peculiarly industrial landscape of the proving grounds. The car handled marvelously. Greg told me that this car wasn’t near final refinement yet and that the production Volt would handle even better. Hard to believe.

The braking had a customary feel. Regenerative braking was of course in effect, and every downhill grade and coast charged the pack. GM had cleverly built in two driving configuration options called D and L. Both gave the same acceleration, but when you step off the accelerator you get strong regenerative drag if in L and coast in D, the former being best for city driving. As Greg said this could allow you to drive with one foot.

There was of course no transmission so whether driving 5 or 75 mph the same gear was maintained. This was pleasant and comfortable and provided appropriate dynamic power at all velocities, there was no perceived “need” to shift.

I found the car to be light, nimble, agile and very fun to drive. Acceleration was terrific and spirited.

I had the chance to take the car straight up a very treacherous-appearing pure 16-1/2% grade. It was a hill that I cannot recall seeing a similar version of in real life. The car had no trouble making it to the top, and with it floored could hit about 50 mph.

I drove the car a total of 15 miles through the test tracks. At this point in time I wasn’t permitted to experience the shift to generator mode. Greg said it was seamless and most drivers didn’t notice it, but GM was still shy about showing it off until some further tweaking had occurred. I was promised a chance to come back when the time was right for it.

The bottom line is that the car was a solid, pleasant, agile and sporty compact sedan. It handled and behaved like any car in its category should. It was as its own chief engineer Andrew Farah says, “unremarkable.”

I would expand that to remarkably unremarkable.

Unremarkable in that the average driver would experience driving it as they would any other small sporty sedan. It was not a toy a or some tinny weak neighborhood car.

What was remarkable and indeed profoundly so is that it does so without the use of gasoline.

It is a car that has absolutely no-compromises. Yet, it is electric.

That is a feat of monumental importance. This is a car that the masses will embrace because of the kind of car it is. That is uses no gas for 40 miles is the real breakthrough.

And so it was that I drove the Volt mule on that Spring day. A regular guy who just started a blog to influence the direction of US transportation and who now found himself at the very wheel of that future

GM has done what they set out to over two years ago and amazingly well I might add, despite all the trials and tribulations that have transpired. The real Volt will be here in a few short weeks. We’ll be waiting.

Monday, April 27, 2009

General Motors Will Have Four Brands and Three Sales Channels



The Pontiac Brand Bites The Dust




Pontiac is out. Hummer will be sold soon and Saturn has one year left. These are the drastic measures GM is willing to take to meet the guidelines for their Federal bailout funds.

In a revised viability plan filed with the government today, General Motors said it will market its four core brands through three channels.

GM also has mapped out which dealers are likely to be eliminated in its 163 major U.S. markets, says Troy Clarke, GM's president of North America.

"We have an understanding of how we want each market to look," said Troy Clarke, GM's president of North America. "We will spend the month of May talking to dealers about how we plan to develop the appropriate (dealer) support for each market."

GM said Chevrolet will have its own channel and be GM's foundation brand. Cadillac will be the luxury channel. Buick-GMC will be the third channel and be considered an "upper-premium" brand.

In major markets, Chevrolet and Cadillac will be stand-alone channels, GM said in its government report. Buick-GMC will stand alone or be aligned with Chevrolet or Cadillac with a "separate sales operation depending on market penetration and real estate costs," GM said.

A GM spokesman said that in big markets there might be some superstores consisting of all four brands and that stores could be realigned to carry three brands.

In mid-sized and small-town markets, GM said, "in many cases Chevrolet and Buick-GMC will be aligned with one dealer operator."

GM will "dramatically lower" the number of Cadillac dealerships it has in small markets.

GM announced it plans to reduce its dealership count to 3,605 by the end of next year. GM ended 2008 with 6,246rooftops.

About half of GM's upcoming cuts will be of dealers who have very small volumesand dealers who have other brands and do not get the bulk of their sales from a GM brand, said Mark LaNeve, GM's vice president of vehicles sales, service and marketing, during a press event here.

"I don't want to cut any dealers," LaNeve said. "It's tough stuff. The key to this plan, though, is to have 3,600 really strong dealers."

Chevrolet dealer Larry Dimmitt is one of the dealers in a major market who thinks he'll be OK given GM's sales channel strategy.

"We're going to come out stronger," said Dimmitt, who owns Dimmitt Chevrolet in Clearwater, Fla. "This should have been done years ago. The pace and urgency just wasn't there."

GM's Clarke said that single-line dealers of the brands that GM plans to discontinue likely won't be given new franchises. GM has 35 stand-alone Pontiac stores. Saturn, which GM is hoping to spin off, has 384 dealerships as of April 6.

GM is close to a deal to sell its Hummer brand, CEO Fritz Henderson said today. It is restructuring Saab in an effort to sell it, too.


Source: Automotive News

GM to Slash US Jobs as Well as Pontiac



General Motors Corp. said it will cut 21,000 U.S. factory jobs by next year, phase out its storied Pontiac brand and ask the government to take company stock in exchange for half GM's government debt as part of a major restructuring effort needed to get more government aid.

The struggling automaker also said it will offer 225 shares of common stock for every $1,000 in notes held by bondholders as part of a debt-for-equity swap.

The annoucements came in a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

GM is living on $15.4 billion in government loans and faces a June 1 deadline to restructure and get more government money. If the restructuring doesn't satisfy the government, the company could go into bankruptcy protection.

GM said in a press release that it also will ask the government to take 50 percent of its common stock in exchange for canceling half the government loans to the company as of June 1.

GM said the bond exchange would wipe away $27 billion in unsecured debt if successful. The company estimates that after the exchange, bondholders would own 10 percent of the company.

In addition, GM is offering the United Auto Workers stock for at least 50 percent of the $20 billion the company must pay into a union run trust that will take over retiree health care expenses starting next year.

All the stock offerings mean that current common stockholders would own only 1 percent of the company under the deals, the press release says.

In premarket trading, GM shares rose 10 cents, or 5.9 percent, to $1.79.


Source: Yahoo News

Sunday, April 26, 2009

2010 Toyota Prius Output to Increase 25%



Toyota Motor Corp. will increase monthly output of the 2010 Prius starting in June by at least 25% to 50,000 units, up from an earlier planned 40,000 units per month, based on receiving more advance orders than expected.

Production in fiscal 2009 is now expected to total some 500,000 units, including April and May, when production will be ramping up ahead of the release. That is up substantially from the previous forecast for a little over 300,000.

Pre-orders for the new hybrid began in April, and exceeded 40,000 early last week. They are expected to keep climbing to anywhere between 60,000 and 70,000 before the launch date, indicating unusually robust demand for a new model. Advance orders alone of the new Prius may end up nearing total fiscal 2008 sales of the second-generation Prius in Japan, which came to 70,618 units.

Hitachi Develops High Powered Li Ion Battery for Hybrid Vehicles



The Nikkei reports that Hitachi Ltd. has developed a high-power lithium-ion battery for hybrid-electric vehicles. The battery reportedly has specific power of 4,500 W/kg— a power increase of 70% over its current models, and 50% over a new version Hitachi plans to begin mass-producing next year.

Hitachi aims to begin commercial production of the new battery in the mid-2010s. The battery also boasts a 20% longer life, at 10 years, about the same as the life of a car.

Hitachi, which in 2000 became the first company to mass-produce large lithium-ion batteries for cars, has sold 600,000 units so far. It aims to sell 100 billion yen worth of vehicle-use lithium-ion batteries in fiscal 2015.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Toyota Prius Orders Outpace Honda Insight



2010 Toyota Prius




Toyota Motor Corp. expects pre-sale orders for the new Prius hybrid to reach 40,000 units in Japan by the time it goes on sale in mid-May, a newspaper reported today.

Such a pace would easily overtake Honda Motor's rival Insight model.

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, sold around 73,100 units of the current Prius in Japan in 2008.

Local newspapers including the Chunichi and Nikkei reported that Toyota dealers in Japan had received orders for more than 20,000 units of the third-generation Prius. Orders are expected to reach 40,000 units ahead of the car's debut, the Nikkei said, citing an unnamed Toyota official.

A Toyota spokesman declined to confirm the reports.

Toyota is bracing for a head-on price battle with Honda's new Insight hybrid, which overtook the Prius in domestic sales in February, when it went on sale.

Hybrid car sales are expected to get a big boost from new tax and cash incentives announced by the Japanese government.

The new Prius, which has a 1.8-liter engine, is expected to carry a price tag of around 2.05 million yen ($20,750), cheaper than its predecessor, which starts at 2.33 million yen and is powered by a 1.5-liter engine.

The Insight hybrid, with a 1.3-liter engine, is priced from 1.89 million yen, the first hybrid car to be sold for less than 2 million yen. Toyota is planning to continue selling the existing version of the Prius alongside the fully remodeled version, reportedly for the same price as the Insight.

Toyota has set a global sales target of 400,000 units in 2010 for the new Prius. Honda sold some 18,000 Insights in the car's first month on the market, 3.6 times its monthly sales target of 5,000 for the model.


Source: Automotive News

Friday, April 24, 2009

FEV Showcases its Internal Advanced Hybrid Development Projects at SAE World Congress




FEV Converted Diesel Electric Extended Range Vehicle






FEV has the right idea and if only a major auto manufacturer would follow their lead, we would have something. Even the gas hog Hummer H3 can be tamed with this technology, which is saying alot.

From Green Car Congress:

At SAE 2009 World Congress, FEV showcased two advanced hybrid development projects it undertook with partners—the range-extended electric vehicle (ReEV) HUMMER H3 done in cooperation with Raser and a heavy-duty series hydraulic hybrid yard hostler done in partnership with EPA—as well as two internal hybrid development projects: a Dodge Caliber-based range-extended electric vehicle, and a small Wankel-based 18 kWe APU that could, for example, also be used as the genset in the Caliber.

FEV, a powertrain and engineering company, works closely with OEMs on a variety of projects—many of which it has to keep confidential. That can make it a bit tough to drum up new business, said David Gian, FEV Chief Engineer, Vehicle Integration “when your prospective customer asks ‘What have you done?’ and you have to say ‘I can’t tell you.’” With its ongoing push to be fully capable in transmission and driveline design, development, and testing, FEV decided to produce a couple of demonstrations of capability (the Caliber and the Wankel APU) that prospects could see and drive.

HUMMER H3 ReEV. The HUMMER H3 was commissioned by Raser (earlier post) as part of its lead role in the Plug-in Hybrid Development Consortium, formed in 2005. (Earlier post.) FEV performed the full vehicle integration of the concept.

Raser’s intention is to commercialize the ReEV drivetrain and vehicles, said David West, Vice President of Marketing for Raser. Pcific Gas & Electric will buy two this year (earlier post), and West said that they have some 12,000 soft orders from utilities for a truck version of the H3 ReEV drivetrain (e.g., HUMMER HUT or Chevy Silverado), and expects to have 2,000 units in utility fleets by the end of next year. (Earlier post.)

Propulsion comes from a 200 kW Raser Symetron traction motor mated to a 4–speed automatic transmission. A 100 kW Rase Symetron generator, driven by a GM Ecotec 2.0L SIDI turbocharged engine provides electrical power.

A liquid-cooled, 41 kWh lithium-ion battery pack operates at 700V and provides the energy storage. The pack in the demonstration vehicle comes from Electrovaya. For the upcoming production versions, Raser is considering other pack suppliers, including A123Systems which is a member of the coalition, as well as others, West said.

The Raser Technologies scalable plug-in series hybrid design in the Hummer H3 provides 40+ miles all-electric range. Acceleration from 0-60 mph takes less than 9 seconds.

FEV’s responsibilities in the project included:

  • Supported performance simulation
  • Powertrain and electrical packaging
  • Component, system and controller integration
  • System architecture development and integration
  • Hybrid controller development
  • Vehicle build
  • Supported battery development
  • Developmental vehicle testing and validation

Caliber ReEV. FEV’s internal development project converting a Dodge Caliber to a full ReEV was designed to demonstrate its full spectrum of capabilities in hybrid engineering.

The ReEV propulsion system was developed entirely by FEV, including:

  • Performance modeling and simulations
  • Component selection and procurement
  • Design, analysis and packaging
  • High Voltage system architecture, development and integration
  • Hybrid controls and powertrain development and testing
  • Complete vehicle integration
  • Vehicle exhaust and evaporative emission calibration
  • Overall vehicle calibration, testing and validation
  • NVH optimization

The Caliber ReEV propulsion system employs a 1.0L, 3-cylinder, 4 valve engine that is mated to a UQM PP75 generator that provides 41 kW of continuous power in extended-range mode, with a peak power of 75kW. The energy storage system consists of a 20 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack that operates at 346V, with a Delphi DC/DC converter. A UQM PP125EX traction motor powers the wheels.

The Caliber ReEv accelerates from 0-60 mph in 8.3 seconds and has a tope speed of 84 mph.

Wankel-based APU for range-extended electric vehicle. To illustrate another possible approach to a ReEV, FEV designed the small Wankel-based APU. The 295cc Wankel genset, fueled by gasoline or LPG, delivers 18 kW of electric power output. The APU could be dropped into the Caliber ReEV, Gian said, albeit with a change in battery and genset operating strategy.

The project allowed FEV to highlight a number of capabilities:

  • Benchmarking and target setting
  • Concept layout and development
  • Simulation of system
  • Development and optimization of operational strategies (i.e., to account for the smaller genset)
  • Genset testing in hybrid powertrain testcells
  • Vehicle integration and validation

Hydraulic Hybrid. In addition to the ReEV and related projects, FEV had on display the heavy-duty hybrid hydraulic yard hostler it is developing in partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), APM Terminals, Parker-Hannifin, Kalmar Industries, R.H. Sheppard, Inc., Webasto, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (Earlier post.)

Specific benefits of the hydraulic hybrid system include an improvement in fuel efficiency of 50 - 60% with a concomitant reduction in CO2 and reduced maintenance costs on engine, starter and brakes.

FEV integrated the hydraulic hybrid system capable of hauling two loaded twenty-foot containers at maximum speed of 25 mph. FEV performed the following:

  • Design, analysis, simulation and fabrication of hydraulic drive unit (frame mounted end-to-end unit) from a clean sheet of paper
  • Vehicle integration and build of hydraulic systems

This hydraulic hybrid technology can be applied to light-duty trucks, SUVs and heavy-duty urban vehicles such as city transit buses and refuse trucks.

General Motors to Announce Pontiac Closure Next Week



The Stylish and Comely Pontiac G8





General Motors may announce early next week that its Pontiac brand will be eliminated, said a source familiar with the company's plans. The announcement will be made as part of an updated viability plan to the U.S. auto task force, the source said.

A second source indicated earlier this week that GM was considering phasing out the brand instead of sticking with the current plan to have it continue as a niche marque.

GM, surviving with $15.4 billion in U.S. government loans, had planned to keep Pontiac along with mainstream brands Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac. Saturn, Hummer and Saab are up for sale.

Reports that GM is contemplating killing Pontiac surfaced today in Australia, where GM builds the Pontiac G8 sedan.

GM still needs to sell Hummer as well although, if they head into bankruptcy, then someone may scoop up the brand at a discounted price.

Source: Automotive News


Thursday, April 23, 2009

GM Will Idle 13 Plants for up to 9 Weeks





General Motors World Headquarters







More bad news from General Motors. News like this is certainly not helpful in these tough economic times and one has to wonder if GM will actually survive. They have such an overstock of inventory that the auto company needs to reduce production by 190,000 vehicles. Obviously, this means they are going to lose that many sales in the current year and will likely be looking at even deeper cuts in spending.

How can GM survive without a bankruptcy? Even after a bankruptcy, would you be inclined to buy a vehicle from them or no?

From Automotive News:

Amid the worst sales slump in 30 years and cascading financial problems, General Motors announced today that it will cut 190,000 vehicles from its production schedule for the second and third quarters.

In a statement this afternoon, GM said the cuts, which will close some plants for nine weeks, will trim high dealership inventories and put production in line with sluggish sales.

It also said the cuts could help prevent a GM shutdown in case Delphi, GM's troubled former parts unit, could not deliver parts because of its own financial problems.

"We're taking aggressive steps to accelerate our inventory initiatives that have worked well since the first of the year," said Troy Clarke, GM North America president.

"While sales have been performing at or close to our plan estimates, and dealer inventories have been reduced accordingly, we want to more closely align our inventories with even more conservative market assumptions," Clarke said in the statement.

In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Clarke said GM had planned to gradually reduce vehicle inventories at the start of 2009. But GM CEO Fritz Henderson decided to accelerate the inventory reduction with the plant closings to help GM meet the goals in its viability plan.

"We really need to get inventory in line much quicker," he said. The production cuts are part of Henderson's plan to move faster and deeper, Clarke said.

GM consulted with President Obama's Automotive Task Force, but was not given orders to shut the plants, Clarke said.

"It was an internal decision, part of reinventing GM, part of the viability plan. We certainly advised the task force of our actions so that they are familiar with what we are trying to get done," he said.

To achieve the production cuts, GM will idle 13 North American plants in the second and third quarters. But plants that assemble new or redesigned vehicles that are now launching will not be affected. Those include the Chevrolet Camaro, Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Equinox and Cadillac SRX.

GM said it had 767,000 vehicles in inventory at the end of March, down 108,000, or 12 percent, from last year. April sales are not likely to improve over last month. J.D. Power and Associates said retail sales during the first half of April fell 33 percent over the same period of last year.

Clarke told reporters this afternoon that the company hopes to cut its inventory to 525,000 units by July. He said the plant closings would range from one week to nine weeks.

GM also said the festering financial situation at Delphi Corp. could jeopardize parts deliveries in the coming months.

GM said negotiations with Delphi and its lenders so far have failed to reach an agreement that would ensure GM parts deliveries.

"Without the successful resolution of this dispute, it is General Motors' view that Delphi or its lenders could force GM into an uncontrolled shutdown, with severe negative consequences for the U.S. automotive industry," GM's statement said.

George McGregor, vice president of UAW Local 22 at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, said workers weren't surprised by today's news, given that dealers aren't buying cars in this slow economy. The plant builds the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS sedans.

McGregor said the plant has been building only 35 cars an hour since January. Its normal rate is 56 cars an hour.

He added: "Members knew something was coming because of the 35 jobs an hour, and we can look out the back of our plant and see most of the cars are still there."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Leo Motors, Inc. Proves Their Midsize Highway Electric Vehicles




The Leo Motors S 65






Leo Motors has completed testing of its Electric Vehicle (EV) conversion solution on Kia’s popular “Morning” car model. The converted Kia achieved speeds of 100 mph and a range of 150 miles on a single charge, going from zero to sixty mph in six seconds.

Leo’s conversion solution can be used in any type of small to midsize vehicle platform (2,000 cc engines or below), for any manufacturer. Using Leo’s solution, cars can be converted to electric vehicles for real world use both for high-speed highway and city traffic.

The conversion kit solution is the result of evolutionary EV technologies from Leo Motors that focused on the development of the motor system, battery pack, power control, and power management system. Leo’s particular solution set or “kit” consists of a 60kW water-cooled AC motor with controller, 30kWh or 16kWh lithium polymer power pack with multi-battery management system (BMS), and charger.

“This solution is more than a kit to convert small to midsize cars into electric vehicles,” said Robert Kang, Chairman and CEO of Leo Motors. “It is a real world solution available today to the entire auto industry that enables car manufacturers to introduce electric vehicles of their own into the marketplace immediately.”

Leo Motors believes that its solution is superior to the competition as a complete conversion technology as well as on a per component basis. The Leo power pack is made up of eight modules of ten lithium (Li) polymer cells, with each module assembled from ten small Li Ion polymer cells using a BMS. Each module sends voltage and temperature information to the BMS, which controls and enables optimal battery operation under driving and charging conditions. The price of the kit is $20,000 with a 16kWh power pack. The kit is available now from Leo Motors on an order basis. Photos of the post-conversion Kia Motors vehicle can be viewed at: http://www.dailycar.co.kr/content/news.html?type=view&gu=2&autoId=4316

Leo Motors has several proprietary designs for new electric vehicles for various uses including taxis; fleet operations such as police, mail delivery, and resorts; as well as a unique electric motor cycle. Leo Motors is also developing a revolutionary multi-motor system as well as a new type of refuelable zinc air fuel cell.

This company is proving that electric vehicles are viable and ready for use by all motorists. $20,000 is simply not that much of a premium to pay for a very capable alternate energy vehicle. If a major auto manufacturer would simply step up and start manufacturing these vehicles, the price premium will drop drastically.

For more news and information on Leo Motors, Inc. please visit www.IRGnews.com/coi/LEOM where you can find the CEO’s video, a fact sheet on the company, investor presentations, and more. The company’s website is www.leomotors.com.

Source: Leomotors.com


Chrysler Proposes Four All-Electric Minvans for use with USPS



Chrysler unveiled four all-electric Chrysler Town & Country minivan concepts to the US Postal Service (USPS) in Washington, DC, as part of the USPS Earth Day celebration. Chrysler LLC, in conjunction with the USPS and select energy service providers, also announced that the company intends to apply for the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Transportation Electrification stimulus program for a federal grant, which would enable Chrysler to establish a nationwide demonstration fleet of zero-emission electric minivans that could be used by the US Postal Service for mail delivery.
Uspsmini
One of the electric mini-van prototypes. Click to enlarge.

Chrysler’s ENVI group leveraged the flexibility of its electric-vehicle strategy to demonstrate an all-electric version of its best-selling minivan. These electric minivan concepts are targeted specifically for use by the US Postal Service for mail delivery.

Because robust grid integration is essential for widespread customer acceptance of electric vehicles, Chrysler has enlisted the involvement of key utility partners, including Duke, ConEd and DTE. Each has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Chrysler to equip post offices in strategically selected regions of the United States with a charging infrastructure for the envisioned program. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) also has signed an LOI to provide USPS integration tools.

The USPS is a perfect candidate for the electrification of its delivery fleet. Most routes in urban areas consist of start and stop driving covering a limited range. A modest battery pack would certainly meet the needs of most routes.

Earlier this month, Chrysler announced A123Systems as one of its strategic partners and production battery supplier for the company’s initial production electric vehicles. Chrysler LLC and A123Systems signed an agreement stating that A123Systems will supply energy storage systems for Chrysler’s first-generation ENVI Range-extended Electric Vehicles and battery-only Electric Vehicles.

If Chrysler can ride out the current economic storm, then USPS would surely benefit by an alliance that provides alternate energy vehicles for its fleet.


Source: Green Car Congress

The BYD Auto E6 Crossover Electric Vehicle

BYD, China's biggest battery maker, isn't wasting any time carving its niche in the new world of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. It all started with the F6DM plug-in hybrid sedan, followed by the smaller and less expensive F3DM plug-in hybrid compact car.

Now BYD has introduced its E6 electric car at the Beijing International Auto Show. It takes the shape of a crossover, or MPV, and will be built on on the F6's platform (same as the F6DM, which could be sold in Europe by 2010).

BYD E6 Electric Vehicle Specifications
So far, all we know is that the E6 will be a 5 seater with an acceleration of 0 to 100 kph of around 10 seconds. Top speed should be top speed of 160 kph (100 mph), and the battery pack, which is located under the rear passenger seats, will be based on BYD's own lithium-ion iron phosphate technology. Range per charge is expected to be 300 km (186 miles).

But most impressive of all:

"BYD projected the battery had a life of 2,000 cycles, for a lifetime range of about 600,000 km (373,000 miles)"

Wow! Even if that's just half true, it's still pretty good.

BYD E6 Electric car photo

Charging of the battery will take the night with 220V, but the E6 electric car can also take a fast charge that can bring the battery to 80% SOC in about 15 minutes.

BYD says that it could start producing the E6 within two years. Another one to follow.

BYD E6 Electric car photo

If I could only read Chinese, I would tell you more about the specifics.

BYD Auto is serious about alternate energy vehicles and hopefully we will see them for sale in the US in the not too distant future.


Source: Treehugger.com

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2010 Toyota Prius Pricing Clarified



Are you as confused as I am concerning the pricing of the model year 2010 Toyota Prius? Good. This will clear everything up and show us in black and white exactly what we will get for which price.

The pricing change is a direct result of the Honda Insight competition and could be called the first ever hybrid price war! Ah, competition is always a good thing and now we have a choice of dependable hybrid vehicles for a reasonable price. There is only one thing missing in the equation. A plug with which we can recharge the hybrid battery.

From Green Car Congress:

Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), USA, Inc., announced manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRP) today for the all-new 2010 Prius midsize hybrid (earlier post), scheduled to go on sale beginning in late May at Toyota dealers nationwide. The third-generation Prius will be available in one grade with a starting MSRP of $21,000. The Prius will be offered with five levels of standard equipment combinations, ranging up to a top-end MSRP of $27,270.

The MSRPs for the Honda Insight, which Toyota considers a prime competitor for the new Prius, range from $19,800-$23,100.

Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of the Toyota Division, sees the most popular model starting at an MSRP of $22,000 (the Prius II)—the same price as the current base model. A new base model (Prius I) with a lower level of standard equipment is scheduled to be available later this year. It is designed to appeal to the most cost-conscious businesses and consumers.

2010 Prius Levels
LevelStandard equipmentMSRP
Prius I To be released at a later date. $21,000
Prius II
  • 1.8L Atkinson cycle engine
  • P195/65 R15 all-season tires with alloy wheels & covers
  • Smart Key (driver’s door) and Push Button start
  • EV, Eco, and Power modes
  • Multi-Informational Display
  • AM/FM/MP3 CD player with six speakers and satellite radio capability and auxiliary audio jack
  • Cruise control
  • STAR Safety System and active front headrest
  • Seven airbags including driver knee airbag
  • Four-wheel disc brakes
  • Tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and HVAC
  • Controls with Touch Tracer Display
  • Six-way adjustable driver seat
  • Auto up/down on all windows
  • Color-keyed foldable power heated side mirrors
$22,000
Prius III In addition to Prius II:
  • JBL AM/FM/MP3 six-disc CD changer with eight speakers
  • Integrated satellite radio capability
  • Hands-free phone capability via Bluetooth wireless technology
$23,000
Prius IV In addition to Prius III:
  • Three-door Smart Key system
  • Leather-trimmed interior
  • Heated front seats with driver lumbar support
  • Driver and front passenger water repellant windows
  • Plasmacluster ionizer
$25,800
Prius V In addition to Prius IV:
  • 17-inch alloy wheels and P215/45 R17 tires
  • LED headlamps with auto leveling and washers
  • Integrated foglamps
$27,270

Optional equipment includes:

  • Navigation Package ($1,800, Prius III, IV, V)
  • Solar Roof Package ($3,600, Prius III, IV)
  • Advanced Technology Package ($4,500, Prius V)

UQM Technologies Introduces 145 kW System



UQM Technologies is all over the scene as concerns the electric drive-trains for future automobiles. All that is needed is for some major auto manufacturer to sign a contract with them to supply their products to an assembly line. This announcement is for a perfectly sized motor for an all electric vehicle.

From Green Car Gongress:

UQM Technologies has released a new motor/generator system for use in electric propulsion applications. The new 145 kW system extends the peak power available in the company’s smaller 280 mm diameter frame size from 125 kW to 145 kW, has a continuous power rating of 85 kW, delivers peak torque of 400 N·m and weighs only 50 kg.

UQM propulsion systems and generators are available in a variety of power levels in either a 280 mm diameter frame size or a larger 405 mm diameter frame size.

UQM also offers a complete line of matching power electronic motor controllers to intelligently manage the operation of its motors and generators, as well as DC-to-DC converter and DC-to-AC inverter power conversion products.

We are pleased to add the PowerPhase 145 system to our line-up of electric propulsion systems for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle applications. Originally developed for a high performance passenger automobile, this system delivers exceptional peak power and torque in a compact package. It is also an ideal generator for hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid electric range extenders due to its high continuous output capability and an operating speed range that matches compact engines.

—Jon Lutz, UQM Technologies’ Vice President of Technology

GM and Chrysler to Receive More Bailout Funds




The "Big Three" CEO's at Last Fall's Congressional Hearings







General Motors Corp
. could get as much as $5 billion more in federal loans, while Chrysler LLC could get $500 million as they race against government-imposed deadlines to restructure, according to a government report filed Tuesday.

The quarterly report by a special inspector general on the auto industry and bank bailout programs says the money will be made available for working capital. GM has until June 1 to complete restructuring plans that satisfy the government's auto task force, while Chrysler has until April 30.

A person briefed on the plans said Tuesday that the exact amount of the loans have not been finalized and will be worked out with the companies. The person asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.

GM already has received $13.4 billion in government loans, while Chrysler has received $4 billion.

The government's auto task force rejected both companies' restructuring plans on March 30 and gave Chrysler until the end of April to make further cuts and take on a partner or face liquidation. If GM doesn't meet its deadline, it will be forced to restructure under bankruptcy protection.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson said last week that the automaker would need $4.6 billion during the second quarter. A Chrysler spokeswoman said only that the company has not received any more money beyond the initial $4 billion.

The inspector general's report filed Tuesday says that as of March 31, the Treasury Department had spent $24.8 billion for the Auto Industry Financing Program, out of a projected initial total of $25 billion. The money includes aid to Chrysler and GM, plus their financial arms, Chrysler Financial and GMAC Financial Services.

The Treasury also has estimated that it will spend up to $1.25 billion to guarantee warranties for people who buy Chrysler or GM vehicles during the restructuring period. The program is designed to reassure consumers that their warranties will be honored, according to the report, which was prepared for Congress.


Source: Yahoo News

Monday, April 20, 2009

General Motors and SAIC Promote Fuel Cell Technology



The Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell Vehicle




It really isn't hard to understand why GM is a colossal failure as of late. The latest headlines report how General Motors has found a new partner to further the myth that fuel cell technology will actually become a viable automotive option. A whopping ten vehicles will be built by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation for the purpose of carting around VIP's at the upcoming World Expo.

Current fuel cell vehicles cost around one million dollars apiece. Thus, when I say ten vehicles, it is easy to understand the low number. GM has one fuel cell vehicle that it is pouring money into, namely the Chevy Equinox. What is incomprehensible is the fact that GM continues to pump money into this dead end technology in light of their impending bankruptcy.

Consider the following:

1 - Fuel cell vehicles currently cost one million dollars apiece to build.
2 - There is no hydrogen refueling infrastucture in the US.
3 - Each hydrogen fuel station costs millions and can only fill a very limited number of autos daily.
4 - The fuel cell stack only lasts a few years before needing replaced. Of course, the fuel cell is the costliest component of the car.

None of the obstacles listed above are easily remedied and none will be solved any time soon. Hydrogen powered cars could be one of the biggest hoaxes of the 21st century. It's time the auto manufucturers abandon them completely and concentrate on the many other viable alternate energy vehicles available now. Electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid EV's, CNG and LPG vehicles, bio-diesel and ethanol driven cars and trucks are all possible today and would help us eliminate our need for foreign oil. Let's mass produce these cars and drive down the cost of their respective technologies.

From Green Car Congress:

In Shanghai, General Motors Corp. and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group (SAIC) launched SAIC’s Shanghai Brand Fuel Cell Vehicle, powered by GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell propulsion technology. The vehicle from SAIC uses the same 700 bar high-pressure hydrogen fuel cell system adopted in the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell. (Earlier post.)

Ten Shanghai Brand Fuel Cell Vehicles will be built. The zero-emission high-tech vehicles will join the Equinox Fuel Cell as part of a fleet of both GM and SAIC vehicles to shuttle VIPs at World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

The Shanghai and Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles will be featured in the most extensive fuel cell demonstration program ever conducted in China. This follows the government’s call for the creation of a sustainable transportation system. GM supports China’s move toward sustainability, and we are providing our latest fuel cell technology in line with our overall strategy of in China, with China, for China.

—GM Group Vice President and GM Asia Pacific President Nick Reilly

SAIC engineers have been co-located at GM facilities in Germany and GM engineers have been co-located at SAIC facilities in China to produce the vehicles. The original Equinox fuel cell propulsion system has been modified and improved to fit into the Shanghai Brand Fuel Cell Vehicle.

GM and SAIC are the exclusive joint global automobile partner of World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

The two automakers, which operate eight joint ventures in China, earlier signed a pair of agreements to promote advanced vehicle technology. Their Shanghai GM joint venture began selling the Buick LaCrosse Eco-Hybrid last year as part of its Drive to Green strategy. China is also slated to become one of the first markets for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle in 2011.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bright Automotive's IDEA to be Unveiled Tuesday




Bright Automotive IDEA - coming soon




Bright Automotive will unveil its IDEA plug-in hybrid concept on Tuesday in Washington, DC. Bright will then take the IDEA will to Norway in May 2009 for the Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS24). The IDEA is designed to operate in all-electric mode for the first 30 miles before switching to hybrid mode for a full range of 400 miles.

Bright Automotive launched in January 2008 from Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) with the goal of building on the work of a consortium of organizations, including Alcoa, Google.org, Johnson Controls and the Turner Foundation.

Bright says that its IDEA heavily utilizes platform efficiency—including lightweight materials, advanced aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tires—combined with the PHEV drivetrain.

Bright Automotive has also created Bright Works engineering services, which is focused on supporting OEMs’ development of PHEVs and EVs in three specific areas: mass-production vehicle conversions; vehicle system controls; and battery pack systems.

Friday, April 17, 2009

General Motors to Keep GMC and Pontiac



GM CEO, Fritz Henderson




GM disputed the claims from the previous post, going on record as saying both GMC and Pontiac will remain. Look for updates today as CEO Fritz Henderson holds a press conference to delineate further plans.

From Automotive News:

A senior General Motors executive today denied reports that President Barack Obama's automotive task force has pressured the automaker to dump GMC and Pontiac.

Company sales chief Mark LaNeve also denied rumors that GM plans to terminate the franchise agreements of poorly performing dealers before June 1 to accelerate its dealership consolidation campaign.

"The strategy we laid out for you [in February] is still the strategy," LaNeve, GM's vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing, said today in an interview with Automotive News.

"Are we working it, tweaking it, examining every aspect of it? Yes, but nothing has changed with our strategy," he said. Reports that "GMC is going away are just unfounded, unsubstantiated and untrue," LaNeve said.

In a Feb. 17 report to the U.S. Treasury Department, GM said it planned to go to market with four core brands: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Pontiac would remain as a much smaller brand. GM is trying to sell Hummer, Saab and Saturn.

And that is still the plan, LaNeve said. "They're not pressuring us to give up on anything," he said. "Buick and GMC are very profitable brands, and we have plans to make them even more profitable."

Targeting metro markets

LaNeve confirmed that GM will target metro markets to consolidate dealerships, but the company does not have a June 1 timetable to do so.

As part of its consolidation effort, GM will consider such criteria as operator's effectiveness, location and working capital when it targets those stores for closure.

Meanwhile, GM's new CEO Fritz Henderson has scheduled a conference call with journalists tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. to update the company's restructuring plans.

"We anticipate that this will be the first of a series of updates designed to provide perspective on GM's situation, decisions and actions," according to a statement released by GM.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pontiac and GMC May Bite the Dust as GM Continues to Streamline



What a shock it would be if GMC suddenly ceased to exist. The demise of Pontiac would not be as surprising as GM has already stated it would strip the brand down to specialty vehicles. It would be hard to imagine General Motors without GMC trucks though.

From Automotive News:

Facing a June 1 deadline to restructure under U.S. government oversight, General Motors may drop its Pontiac and GMC brands as part of broader cost-cutting moves, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The two brands are being studied as part of talks with an Obama administration task force assessing whether GM can be restructured without bankruptcy, sources told Bloomberg on Wednesday.

GM's Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick brands are likely to be safe, the news agency reported.

GM had said earlier it would keep Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, GMC and Pontiac while selling or closing Hummer, Saab and Saturn.

An investor group including private equity firm Black Oak Partners has approached GM about buying its Saturn brand assets and dealership network, both sides said on Wednesday.

GM's Hummer brand has received interest from three bidders, none of them automakers, sources told Reuters on April 8.

The current offers for Hummer range from $100-$200 million, the sources said. GM has taken $13.4 billion of U.S. government loans since the beginning of the year.

A decision is yet to be reached on what would happen to Pontiac or GMC should GM opt not to keep them, Bloomberg reported, citing unidentified sources.

The GMC brand has a better chance of surviving than Pontiac, one of the sources told the agency.

A GM spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the report.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cadillac Converj EREV to Get Green Light From GM

This car will not be for the masses, but it will represent just one more alternate energy vehicle. The Cadillac Converj will be an extended range electric vehicle nearly identical to the Chevy Volt. It will utilize the Voltec drivetrain, offering a 40 mile all electric range before the small combustion engine kicks on to provide further electrical power.

Obviously, the Cadillac will provide all the plush amenities as standard and will also offer sportier performance. In an electric vehicle, this comes with a price, namely beefier batteries. There is no other way to provide extra performance other than to provide more juice to the motor. In order to keep the 40 mile range as well as increase performance a bigger battery pack will be needed. Obviously, a bigger price tag will follow.

From motortrend.com:

General Motors has approved production of the stunning Cadillac Converj, its extended-range electric-powered coupe based on the Chevrolet Volt's Voltec architecture, a well-placed source says. GM brass wants the car on the road by 2011, making it a 2012 model. This is all contingent on improved finances for GM, of course, which means it's contingent on the government's reaction to the next version of the automaker's viability plan due June 1. It doesn't hurt that the Obama administration has called for automakers to bring more fuel-efficient cars and trucks to market. A production Converj is potentially profitable and would improve Cadillac's green image at the same time.

Our source says GM will follow up the Cadillac with a people-mover/crossover utility vehicle based on the Voltec architecture.

A GM spokesperson contacted for this report denies the Converj's green-light status and says that nothing has changed regarding the production prospects for the car. However, our source offers a number of details that lend credence to the probability of its approval.

First, of course, a 2011 on-sale date for the Converj is a target date, and it's an ambitious one at that. While the Voltec architecture is exclusive, there's a lot of GM's compact Delta architecture in it. A '12 Converj would need all-new sheetmetal and interior, and that's possible given the advanced status of Voltec development. The drivetrain would be similar to the lithium-ion battery pack and 1.4L four-cylinder engine to be used in the Chevy Volt, although GM is likely to add battery mass to make the Cadillac a more powerful car.

Our source says GM brass plans to build the car as a two-door coupe, like the concept, not a four-door with hidden rear door handles, an alternative product chief Bob Lutz floated in Motor Trend's April 2009 feature on the concept. While the concept is a tallish 55 inches, a production Converj would have to use the Volt's taller firewall, which means the car will have to grow upward in more than ground clearance to make production financially feasible while retaining general proportions.

Whether you believe our source, or the spokesperson, a production Converj seems an easier bet with half of the automaker's brands -- Saturn, Saab and Hummer -- on the way out. GM can better concentrate on core new models for Chevy and Cadillac. Having such advanced green technology available for GM's low-priced and premium "core" brands would resonate with the Obama administration and the public.

As for the Voltec people-mover/CUV, our source believes a Buick badge is most likely, though it also could delineate GMC from Chevy truck models and still please Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealers. The Voltec CUV could have two or three rows of seats - the compact Delta platform is related to the midsize Epsilon II platform, so this model could be larger than the Chevy and Cadillac, with more battery mass to handle the extra weight.