Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will GM become a white dwarf?

Today we thank the once biggest general of them all, General Motors, for our episode of Green Machine. Yes GM is the biggest of the once big three. This motor company has managed to loose more than seventy billion dollars since 2004. Not bad, they sold about thirty five million vehicles during this period and only lost two thousand dollars on each vehicle in their effort for us to “see the USA in our Chevrolet”. While GM lost the seventy big boys the global economic crisis has wiped out more than twenty trillion in the collective global wealth. I was thinking about twenty trillion and realized this is a very large number. The second nearest star other than our sun is less than twenty trillion miles away from earth.

The big question for the big three is whether they will become the little two. Stars also go through expansion and contraction and may end up as black holes. The good news about all of this is that it will be billions of years before our sun gives out its last rays. Solar energy is still our major hope for using renewable energy to power the planet. The solar stocks have also been hit by the plunge on Wall Street but their collective future is still brighter than auto stocks, but not by much unlessl the cost of solar cells is reduced by eighty percent. Solar cells now cost approximately $8,000 per kilowatt of installed capacity and only generate energy a quarter of the time when the sun is shining. When and if the installed cost of solar cells drops to around $1,500 per kilowatt this method for abundant electric power generation will really take hold.
There are rumors that the CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, wants to meet with Toyota in Tokyo. Maybe he read my recent Green Machine article where I postulated the “Toyota Inside” model for affordable, efficient, and high performing future vehicles. Bob Lutz the Vice Chairman of General Motors who often appears on CNBC is still betting on his Chev Volt, the plug in hybrid that will rely on Lithium batteries and is scheduled for commercial launch in 2010. The problem for Lutz is whether GM can survive until then. The US government may well become the largest shareholder in each and every of the three US auto companies long before the Volt draws any juice from the power grid. Perhaps GM with Washington calling the shots will then have a CEO named Klutz and a car named the Revolt.

On an upbeat note, we have a new President with yesterday’s election. As I write the Green Machine articles a week in advance I cannot answer who the new president is, but there is no doubt the new president will have to deal with energy as one of the primary policy issues facing our country in the future. Housing and transportation account for over half of our energy use and both of these sectors require significant funds and attention. I did a quick back of the envelope calculation that transportation including the cost of owning and operating vehicles, maintaining roads and bridges, policing the roads, etc. accounts for approximately twenty per cent of our gross domestic product. I have not performed the calculation on housing but it must be more than thirty percent of GDP.

Maybe I should offer my services to the next administration and show them and the US public, how by being Green Machines we can move the economy forward based on conservation and saving rather than by massive and unsustainable consumption. While it will be painful for the former Big Three stars of the US economy to shrink, they can still have a bright future producing efficient smaller vehicles that could be branded as “white dwarfs” rather than “Super Novas”.