A watchdog for the government's bailout program, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), has hit the US Treasury Department with a hard combo of critique regarding some of the Administration's actions since pumping billions of taxpayer dollars into bailed-out companies like General Motors and Ally Financial (formerly known as GMAC). SIGTARP issued a report lambasting Treasury for allowing excessive pay for executives at GM, Ally Financial and AIG and followed that with statements that scrutinized Treasury's continued refusal to exit its stake in Ally Financial, which is currently 74% owned by the government.
I recently came across a report written by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which estimated the cost to taxpayers for "federal policies to promote (aka subsidize) the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles (EVs)." The piece also predicts the short-term benefits of the subsidies and includes the effects of rising federal requirements for fuel economy (known as CAFE) standards. The outlook is that federal subsidies will cost taxpayers $7.5 billion over the next few years for little or no benefit (even when including the impact of CAFE) to total gas consumption or emissions.
General Motors finished 2012 with a 17.9% market share in the US and is expected to repeat the performance in 2013 according to a Bloomberg report. The number is at the lowest point it has been since 1924. So what is behind the dismal numbers at GM that sees the company performing at 88 year lows?
The final tally is in for 2012 Chevy Volt sales. The good news (which is what most headlines will trumpet) is that sales for General Motors' flagship green vehicle tripled from 2011's paltry 7,671 to a slightly less paltry 23,461 in 2012. The bad news is that the number is almost half of GM's sales goal of 45,000 in 2012 for the Volt. The further bad news is that the Volt has so little demand in most regions that some dealerships are refusing to pay for required tools to repair the vehicles and are choosing to cease selling the vehicles instead.
The past year was a dismal one for the passé idea that government would use taxpayer dollars responsibly, and that was nowhere more evident than with President Obama’s initiatives to promote “clean” energy technology companies and projects with so-called “stimulus” funds and other public money. NLPC reported extensively on some of the most egregious examples.
General Motors moved quickly to complete its buyback of 200 million shares from the US Treasury Department before year end. It is a welcome sign that the Obama Administration is finally beginning to exit taxpayers' GM stake, a move that could have been made a year and a half ago when share price was closer to $30. While some felt it was never the place of Government to gamble taxpayer money on Wall Street by market timing the exit of Treasury's GM stake, others argued that taxpayers would be better served by waiting until GM share price rose to at least over the $33 IPO price of two years ago.
Let's all rejoice! The Treasury Department is finally beginning to unload the taxpayers' stake in General Motors after a three and a half year stint of government involvement in the company. While the decision to get taxpayers out of the private sector is the correct one, the move is hardly a cure-all for what ails GM. And despite reports to the contrary, this does not bring closure to all groups that were involved in the unprecedented intrusion of government into the private sector that saw politically-powerful groups like the UAW receive favorable treatment over other classes.
But that didn’t prevent the recipient of $193 million out of President Obama’s green stimulus from laying off another 40 workers. According to the Orange County Register, Fisker spokesman Roger Ormisher said the company – which had been awarded a $529 million loan guarantee by the Department of Energy only to see it halted due to unspecified shortcomings – had to halt production because its bankrupt supplier, A123 Systems, left them with a low battery inventory. Ormisher said Fisker has laid off about half its employees since February.
General Motors is making more ridiculous claims on the Chevy Volt by flooding the web with stories of how 100 million electric miles have been driven since the Volt's much-hyped inception. Let's put the boasting in perspective. In the two plus years that it took for Volt drivers to put on 100 million miles, gas-powered vehicles logged over 5 TRILLION miles in the US. It would take only 5,000 cars traveling 10,000 miles a year to log 100 million miles in two years. The Volt has fallen far short of sales goals and has cost taxpayers billions of dollars in subsidies to reach the much-publicized but unimpressive milestone. So, what's the net reduction in gas usage in the US as a result of the Volt's accomplishment? Less than .002%.
Albert Einstein is credited with having defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Well, prepare for more insanity as General Motors is doubling down on green energy and plug-in cars after the disappointing sales results from previous entries into the field. The politically-motivated hype that we saw, and continue to see, on the Chevy Volt will be repeated. This time the over-hyped vehicle will be a Korean-made, all-electric Chevy Spark.