Chrysler: Taking Taxpayer Money and Running Away From Cleaner Cars

chrysler_chart.png(Chart: Chrysler Restructuring Plan)

When Chrysler asked the government for a second round of bailout money in February, it submitted a 177-page restructuring plan that vowed to usher in a new era of fuel-efficient vehicles at the famously gas-chugging automaker.

The
chart above, taken from that restructuring plan, shows six models of
electric and hybrid cars labeled "ENVI," the name of the company’s
cleaner-car unit. Chrysler told the White House it would apply
"electric-drive technology … across all three brands (Chrysler, Dodge
and Jeep)," and touted its goal of putting 500,000 cleaner vehicles on the road by 2013. Some environmentalists invoked the news to suggest Chrysler should receive more taxpayer aid.

The Obama administration ultimately rejected Chrysler’s plan as too weak, setting the stage for a bankruptcy filing and a new marriage with Fiat. But the government still holds
a 10 percent stake in Chrysler and has little chance of recouping its
billion-dollar bailout of the automaker — which makes the company’s
decision to disband its "ENVI" unit all the more alarming to fuel-efficiency advocates.

"It’s certainly a bad sign for Chrysler that they emerge from bankruptcy and immediately shift into reverse on
clean cars," Dan Becker, founder of the Safe Climate Campaign,
said in an interview. "It doesn’t bode well for their future, and it’s
a terrible way to thank the American people for investing billions of
dollars in their future."

Chrysler’s about-face on cleaner cars was first reported by Reuters,
which noted that Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne was knocking down
Chrysler’s 2013 cleaner-vehicles projections from 500,000 to 60,000. A
company spokesman noted that electric vehicle development was not
canceled outright but "absorbed into the normal vehicle development
program."

Still, Chrysler’s restructuring plan was not the only rosy prediction turned on its head. The company received
$70 million in Department of Energy (DoE) grants in August to produce
hybrid pickup trucks and minivans, only to cancel that project this
month.

"It’s a sign of Chrysler being
tremendously out of touch with where the market is going," Lena Pons,
transportation policy analyst at Public Citizen, said in an interview.
"They’re going to find it difficult to compete without having at least
the engineering capacity [to produce EVs]."

Given that the
bailout money is already out the door, the Obama administration has
little or no recourse to hold Chrysler to its early vow. But the
taxpayers who helped rescue the company are still free to register
their disappointment.

Late Update: Below is a copy of
Chrysler’s new cleaner-cars plan, which replaces the initial plan for
10 low-emissions vehicles with two, one a Dodge and one an unnamed Fiat
vehicle. The DoE grants are still depicted — now going towards the
hybrid Ram, which is expected to get 30 percent better fuel economy than the current version, or just shy of 20 miles per gallon.

fiat_chart.png(Chart: Chrysler)

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A Last Word on ‘Cash for Clunkers’

|
One thing the government’s CARS program — a.k.a. "cash for clunkers" — has clearly stimulated is commentary. For a policy involving a shade under $3 billion in federal spending, it has enjoyed no shortage of media coverage. (Photo: Newsday) In part this is because the program looks like a big success, and certainly congressional leaders […]

Advice for Policymakers: Time to Check Your Blind Spots

|
Last week, I left my Washington home, walked to the nearby Metro station, rode a train downtown, walked to the National Press Club, and settled in to hear Steven Rattner, former head of the Obama administration’s auto task force, declare that "no one has yet invented a substitute for the automobile." Steven Rattner (Photo: WSJ) […]

It’s a Go for Caltrain Electrification

|
This morning, during its regular meeting in San Carlos, the nine-member Caltrain board voted unanimously to dedicate $1.25 billion towards electrifying Caltrain. If all goes according to plan, electric services will begin in 2020. “The total program is $2 billion. That includes money for the advanced signal system, which we’re already installing today,” said Jayme Ackemann, spokeswoman […]

A Decidedly Dim View of Electric Vehicles

|
Electric Vehicles (EVs) are all the rage these days and the press seems to treat them as a palliative for all that ails our fossil-fuel-driven, automobile-dependent transportation network.  The New York Times has fallen in love with Better Place, an electric-car battery maker that seeks to replace much of the U.S. fleet of vehicles with […]