By Jim Motavalli
12:25 PM EDT, October 24, 2012
I have to sleep sometime, and when I do I miss something. The auto industry is always throwing curve balls at me, and I spend a lot of time keeping them all in the air as I try to be a one-stop car reporter. First, let's talk about the Presidential election.
I watched the second debate, and it was fascinating to see Obama and Romney square off almost immediately on the auto bailout. You may have forgotten by now, but General Motors and Chrysler almost went under in 2008. Obama, who bailed them out, fired this: "You know, when Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, 'We're going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry,' and it's come surging back."
Romney, who had penned a New York Times op-ed headlined "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," was ready for that one. "My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy's and Continental Airlines and come out stronger," he said. The problem with that simplistic formulation is this: the only thing that could saved the companies then was an infusion of public funds, because the private equity market wasn't up to the job.
Obama got in a zinger on this: "[Romney] wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs." There isn't another way of looking at the situation as it existed in 2008.
OK, enough about that. I had thought that the second debate would have been enlivened by exchanges about the bankruptcy of the Massachusetts-based and Obama-supported A123 battery company, which could be said to be the other shoe to fall after solar producer Solyndra's flameout. But it didn't happen, partly because A123—which supplied General Motors, Fisher, Smith Electric and others—had bipartisan support. George W. Bush gave the company money, too, and many Republicans are on record as supporting the company, whose technology was developed at MIT and is enhanced by nanotechnology.
Another problem for the "Obama is shoveling money to clean tech companies that go bust" scenario is that big battery company Johnson Controls bought A123's assets for $125 million and will keep the doors open at its two Michigan plants. Shuttered factories make great political backdrops, but it's not happening in this case.
And also last week, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) finally approved a fast-charging standard for the U.S. This is critical if electric cars are going to achieve liftoff. Fast charging happens at 480 volts, and it get a fully depleted EV back on the road in 30 minutes. It's the kind of charging that will thrive at places you stopover on the way home: supermarket and mall parking lots, for instance.
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