Monday is bankruptcy for GM – Storied automaker suffering huge losses and plummeting market share will file for Chapter 11 protection at 8 a.m

May 31, 2009 at 7:27 pm


President Obama to address nation.

General Motors, the nation’s largest automaker and for decades an icon of American manufacturing, stood Sunday on the brink of bankruptcy and a de facto government takeover.

Image Courtesy: CNN Money

A bankruptcy petition will be filed on Monday at 8 a.m., according to a source with direct knowledge of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Investors who own 54% of $27 billion in GM bonds have agreed to not fight plans for a quick bankruptcy process, GM said on Sunday.

The deal with bondholders could make it easier for GM to restructure by neutralizing some of the opposition to a bankruptcy filing. But it does not wipe away the need for the company to seek court protection for making drastic reductions in dealer, labor and other costs.

President Obama will address the nation shortly before noon on Monday to discuss the bankruptcy, two officials close to the situation told CNN. Obama will explain the rationale for the filing and his hopes that this is the best route for a turnaround.

It is expected that GM will detail some 20,000 job cuts and the closure of about a dozen plants by the end of 2010. The company has already said it will slash 40% of its network of 6,000 retail dealerships by next year and drop four of its brands — Hummer, Saab, Saturn and Pontiac.

The impact of GM’s bankruptcy, which follows a Chapter 11 filing by Chrysler on April 30, will ripple across the nation to dealers, suppliers and other businesses large and small that work in the sector.

The company, once the country’s largest private sector employer, has only a fraction of its former staff. Its 80,000 hourly and salaried U.S. employees are half the number it had as recently as 2001.

Nearly 500,000 U.S. retirees, as well as more than 150,000 of their family members, depend on GM health insurance and pension plans. Retirees will see cuts in their health care coverage, although the company’s underfunded pension plans are not expected to be affected by a bankruptcy filing.

In addition, some 300,000 employees at GM dealerships will be affected, as well as hundreds of thousands of workers at auto parts makers and other GM suppliers whose jobs depend on the company’s survival.

The future

A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing would aim to help GM emerge with only its more profitable plants, brands, dealerships and contracts. GM’s unprofitable plants, contracts and other liabilities that the company can no longer afford would be left behind.

The government has already given GM $19.4 billion to fund operations and cover losses this year, and total help is expected to exceed $50 billion.

GM will pay back $8 billion of that sum. The government will also receive $2.5 billion in preferred shares of GM that pay a dividend and are more similar to a loan than stock.

But more than $40 billion of federal help to GM will be converted into the 72.5% stake in the new company. Taxpayers would make back the money loaned to GM if shares of the new GM increase dramatically in value following an exit from bankruptcy.

GM is expected to have about $17 billion in debt following bankruptcy, significantly less than the $54.4 billion it owed as of March 31.

In a Sluggish Japan, Prius Sales Boom

May 31, 2009 at 12:00 pm

(Source: Time & Green Car Congress)

Orders in Japan for Toyota’s new Prius hybrid have topped a booming 110,000, a major dealership chain said Saturday, in what is turning out to be a rare bright spot in the gloomy auto market.

The third-generation Prius officially rolled out in Japan just two weeks ago. But dealers are already flooded with orders, including some placed weeks in advance, according to the dealership. (See TIME’s photos of General Motors factory-scapes)

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest automaker, said two weeks ago that it received 80,000 advance orders, and has not updated that number.

But the Toyota Tokyo Corolla dealer said Saturday that nationwide orders at Toyota dealerships in Japan, including those of rivals, have soared to 110,000. Dealers tally their customer orders differently from the way manufacturers do.

But any way you slice it, the Prius is a hit. Toyota has set its monthly sales target for Japan at 10,000 new Prius cars — a figure that should make it the top-selling car in the country.

As the orders stack up, the company looks on track to meet or even surpass its goal and take that crown — an astonishing accomplishment for a hybrid, although the Prius is fighting competition from another new hybrid, Honda Motor Co.’s Insight.

Hybrids are in demand partly because the Japanese government began offering tax exemptions for the cars to encourage their sales earlier this year.

The overall Japanese auto market has been languishing for years, with vehicle sales falling to their lowest level in more than three decades last year. Demand has worsened since the U.S. financial crisis sent this nation into a recession.  According to Green Car Congress, the Nikkei estimates that Japan passenger car production in fiscal 2009 will likely decrease to 1979 levels, mostly due to a plunge in exports. The projection, which was compiled based on automakers’ data and interviews with company officials, calls for the eight Japanese passenger car firms to assemble 8.21 million vehicles in the year ending in March 2010, 14% fewer than last year and the second consecutive annual decline, following a 15% fall in fiscal 2008.

Tata adds diesel engine and 3-door version to the Nano

May 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

(Source:  Autobloggreen & The Economic Times)

Ratan Tata has stuck to his words.  At the premiere for Tata Nano in the Auto Expo earlier this year, Tata Motors chairman Ratan Tata had said: “By and large we’ve always been a diesel company so we will have a diesel version that will follow this (petrol) variant soon after.”   Now, after 203,000 firm orders, Indian automaker Tata found out that most buyers had opted for the more expensive variants of the Nano: only 20 percent of orders have been placed for the base model. The consequence is that Tata is experimenting with new strategies for the Nano, introducing new variants to make it even more attractive for the local market. One of the most important features will be the introduction of a new 0.8-liter diesel engine, developed by German company FEV.  According to sources in the auto industry, the small diesel engine will have fuel injection systems developed by Bosch, but the rest of the platform is being developed by Tata Motors and FEV.  A 3-door version hatchback Nano, an idea that was originally rejected, is also in the works. Plans for the European versions are, so far, unchanged, but will surely benefit from the diesel variant.

US transport boss explores Spain’s high-speed rail system

May 30, 2009 at 11:00 am

(Source: AP, NY Times, The Infrastructurist, The Atlantic)

The U.S. transportation secretary says Spain’s bullet train system is a model to follow as America plans how it will spend its stimulus package. Ray LaHood says the $8 billion allocated for high-speed railways in the United States will improve the country’s infrastructure, spur economic growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of his visit to Spain, he took a ride on the AVE from Madrid to Zaragosa and then hung around in a railway control center with the transport minister for a while. On Saturday he met with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the guy who’s has really been the force behind Spain’s recent investment.

When President Obama announced in April his $13 billion plan to propel the United States into the age of high-speed rail, he tipped his hat to the trains that zip between the cities of the Old Continent at up to 217 miles an hour.  Spain opened its first Alta Velocidad Española, or AVE, high-speed train route in 1992, between Madrid and Seville. The network has grown to nearly 2,000 kilometers and stretches from Malaga on the south coast to Barcelona, which is north and east.

Spain, an enthusiastic latecomer to high-speed rail, on Friday will complete a six-day tour of European transit systems that it presented to the American transportation secretary, Ray H. LaHood. Officials say the Spanish experience could hold lessons in what works and what does not.

Supporters say the AVE has begun to transform the country, binding remote and sometimes restive regions to Madrid and leading traditionally homebound Spaniards to move around for work or leisure.

“Spaniards have rediscovered the train,” said Iñaki Barrón de Angoiti, director of high-speed rail at the International Union of Railways in Paris. “The AVE has changed the way people live, the way they do business. Spaniards don’t move around a lot, but the AVE is even changing that.”

Such is the train’s allure that politicians of different stripes have made extravagant promises to lace the country with a sprawling network. Under a plan devised by Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain will have 10,000 kilometers (more than 6,200 miles) of high-speed track by 2020.

In a backhanded tribute, the train is perceived as such an effective tool of political cohesion that the Basque militant group ETA has effectively declared war on a project that would link the Basque region to Madrid.

As has happened elsewhere, the high-speed train is stealing passengers from the airlines: The 2.5-hour route between Madrid and Seville handles about 89 percent of railway and air traffic between the cities, according to Renfe, the state railway operator. In its first year, the Madrid-Barcelona route lured nearly half the five million passengers who would normally fly between the cities, Renfe said.

Supporters say such statistics bolster the train’s green credentials: The International Union of Railways says a high-speed train can carry eight times as many passengers as an airplane over a given distance, using the same amount of energy and emitting a quarter of the carbon dioxide for each passenger.

Here in Lleida, a town of 125,000 in northeastern Spain surrounded by plains that produce half of the country’s apples and pears, the inauguration of a high-speed route to Madrid in 2003 cut the journey to the capital to two hours from five and a half, and the extension of the line to Barcelona last year halved that trip to one hour.

The reception from the US media for the Secretary’s interest in rail has been surprisingly positive.  Voicing its support for the deployment of a high-speed network, the Atlantic notes that many of the nation’s important metropolitan corridors manage to have unbearably congested highways and airports. In the few places where intercity rail has the capacity and speed to be competitive with alternatives, Amtrak has no problem filling its trains. Rail construction obviously has high upfront capital costs, but they’re likely to prove worth it in the long run, particularly given that trains can run on electric power, which will grow steadily greener and become increasingly attractive in a world of rising oil prices (check).

And of course, airline service has not only become miserable and unreliable as the system has become overburdened and unprofitable, but it’s also pretty dirty, in terms of carbon emissions. The standard approximation has planes emitting as much per mile as cars, but of course planes travel much longer distances and at higher altitudes, where emissions have a more significant effect.

Word is, the president really wants to leave office with a high-speed rail network as part of his legacy. Sounds good to me.

It is natural to think if a country like Spain, whose political system is often gridlocked and often confronted by the militant ETA in the Basque region, canembark and accomplish such an ambitious national project, why can’t the same be accomplished in the United States?  A columnist at the Infrastructrist has rightly captured this thought: The conversation about all this in Spain seems very lucid in contrast to our own,  where the political system is so debilitatingly gridlocked that we can think in the smallest terms. Keep in mind that this a $150 billion project for a country with an economy one-tenth the size of ours. So if we were doing things on the Spanish scale, we’d be devoting more than a trillion dollars to passenger rail. Imagine what that debate would sound like in Congress and on talk radio. Rightly said!

California toxic waste regulators target automobile recycling ‘fluff’

May 29, 2009 at 10:16 pm

(Source: LA Times)

The leftovers from car shredders have been used to cover trash at landfills, but state officials now say the practice has health risks and should be stopped. Industry officials say fluff is safe.

At a recycling plant in San Pedro and five other similar operations around California, giant shredding machines annually reduce 1.3 million junk cars, refrigerators and other appliances into fist-sized chunks of metal.
Valuable scrap that contains iron is separated so it can be turned back into steel. Hunks of aluminum, copper and other alloys are pulled out for reprocessing.
But the leftovers — bits of glass, fiber, rubber, engine fluids, dirt and plastics — are getting new attention from state toxic substance regulators, and the $500-million-a-year shredding industry is fighting back.

For years, auto-shredding companies have been hauling tons of these treated leftovers, known in the industry as fluff, to municipal landfills under a state variance granted more than 20 years ago.

State officials now say they are concerned that residue from heavy metals in the fluff could seep from landfills into groundwater, while airborne metal-laden particles could endanger workers at recycling plants and dumps and people living in neighborhoods near such facilities.

The industry maintains that the 700,000 tons of material it delivers to landfills each year pose no threat to health or safety.

A change in state policy, if finalized, could mean that fluff may need to be transported under more strict conditions to special hazardous waste disposal sites, according to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Breaking News: (Update 2) Germany Selects Magna As Partner For Opel

May 29, 2009 at 9:46 pm

(Source: BBC & CNN Money)

Germany has agreed a deal with Magna International, a Canadian-Austrian car parts maker, to take over Opel, part of the European wing of US carmaker GM.

Talks in Berlin continued into early Saturday before Germany’s finance minister announced a deal.

The German government is expected to provide an immediate loan facility of 1.5bn euros ($2.1bn, £1.3bn).

But 2,500 jobs in Germany could be lost and a UK minister has accepted “there is excess capacity” in GM’s operations.

Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck told journalists outside the chancellery shortly after 0200 local time on Saturday that a deal had been agreed.  Earlier on Friday, Opel and Magna’s reached a preliminary agreement with GM.

“We have an agreement,” said Mr Steinbrueck, the AFP news agency quoted him as saying, following six hours of talks between German politicians, US government officials and executives from GM and Magna.

Magna, teamed with Russian auto maker OAO GAZ Group (GAZA.RS) and state- controlled OAO Sberbank (SBER.RS), has said it will put more than 500m euros ($700m; £435m) into Opel.

Steinbrueck said the parties involved also agreed on the model of a trusteeship for Opel for the interim period.

Speaking after the marathon talks that started Friday afternoon in Berlin, Magna co-Chief Executive Siegfried Wolf said he expects the deal with General Motors to be signed in five weeks.

Wolf confirmed that Magna will provide the short-term cash demand of EUR300 million to Opel, which was one of the key reasons for the German government to delay the decision on state aid earlier this week. He said the funds would be available Tuesday.

Italian auto maker Fiat SpA (FIATY), Magna’s last remaining contender for Opel, skipped the meeting inBerlin, citing a lack of transparency over Opel’s financial condition.

Although the decision on the fate of GM’s European operations eventually rests with the U.S. government and GM itself, Berlin played a key role in the negotiations by providing billions of euros for the bridging finance.

The German government took a deep interest in the sales process as it faces general elections in the fall, and the prospect of seeing thousands of Opel employees losing their jobs made a rescue plan for the traditional car maker a top priority for both parties in Germany’s current grand coalition.

Ruesselsheim-based Opel employs around 25,000 workers. It is part of GM’s European operations that employ more than 50,000, with manufacturing plants in Spain, Poland, Belgium and Britain, where Opel cars are sold under the Vauxhall brand, as well as engine and parts sites such as Aspern, near Vienna.

German Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said he arrived at a different risk evaluation, but added he supports the deal and will help to see it completed.

A press conference has been scheduled for Saturday at 8:00 a.m. GMT to explain further details of the Opel deal, Finance Minister Steinbrueck said.

QANTAS’ economy airline seat beats 153 competitors (including a toilet cistern and a pair of socks) to win Australia’s top design award

May 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm

(Source: HeraldSun)

Image Courtesy: Australian International Design Awards

The Qantas A380 Economy Seat beat a pool of 154 entries to win the 2009 Australian International Design Award of the Year, announced in Melbourne tonight.

The seat was designed by Marc Newson, in partnership with Qantas Airways and Recaro Aircraft Seating. 

Mr Newson, an industrial designer and Qantas Creative Director, said he was honoured to receive the award. 

“An enormous amount of energy was put into the A380, but particularly the economy seat, which, of course, accommodates the bulk of passengers,” Mr Newson said.

Judges described the seat as a “world class result” in a notoriously restrictive design category. 

They praised the seat’s “revolutionary” footrest, the entertainment unit and the selection of materials, which included lightweight carbon fibre to help reduce weight. 

“There are so many thoroughly considered elements in one very simple and elegant package. This product cannot be faulted,” a statement from the judges said. 

The design award’s program director Stephanie Watson said the winning product was not selected until the last day of judging after a week of intense scrutiny. 

“The products were beyond exceptional and the competition was tough,” she said. 

Other finalists included Swiss-designed socks which keep your feet cool, a toilet cistern that can be hidden from view and a hearse which shows off the coffin.

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter (TCN) – May 29, 2009

May 29, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Friday, May 29, 2009 – ISSN 1529-1057

TIC3 From GEWI – One Platform, Multiple Deployment Options

 Whether you are looking to provide Interoperability between legacy systems, launch or upgrade a 511 Service, generate Traffic Flows & Predictive models, Traffic Alerts, Traffic Plans & Simulations, report on Work Zones & Road Conditions, run an automated Radio Traffic Advisory system, or produce Navigation Quality Data, TIC3 from GEWI is the solution.  All of these services, and more, can be achieved by simple configuration of this single commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software platform, already in use in over 100+ projects worldwide. To discuss your requirements, contact and look for GEWI in booth #329 at ITS America.


1) Coalition Aims to Revamp Air Traffic Control System

Link to story in The Record:


2) Amtrak Inches Closer to On-Track Wi-Fi in Northern California

Link to story on Jaunted:


3) High-Tech Upgrades to Pennsylvania Highways Could Manage Congestion

Link to story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

4) June Issue of Florida DOT’s SunGuide Disseminator Online

Link to newsletter:


5) GIS Maps Prevent Vehicle Collisions with Elk and Deer

Link to story in Government Technology:

6) New Travel Rules Kick in June 1 in US Amid Concerns Over RFID-Tagged Passport Cards

Link to story in Computerworld:


7) Cleveland‘s Bus Rapid Transit

Link to interview and audio on WNYC Radio:

8) New York MTA Offers Mobile Transit Directions

Link to story in amNY:


9) Kansas is Owed $1 Million in Motor Vehicle Records Misuse Case

Link to story in The Wichita Eagle:

News Releases

1) New Ford Sync Application – Traffic, Directions and Information – Ready for Download

Upcoming Events

Integrating Transit Applications: Defining Data Interfaces Using TCIP – June 24-25 – Los Angeles

Friday Bonus

Here’s an interesting way to calm traffic but panic drivers.*

(*This is not a real product.  The photos are from an ad campaign.)

Today in Transportation History

1914 **95th anniversary** – The RMS Empress of Ireland sank after a collision with the Storstad in the Gulf of St. Lawrence killing 1078 people.


The Transportation Communications Newsletter is published electronically Monday through Friday. 

To subscribe send an e-mail to:

To unsubscribe send an e-mail to:

TCN archives:

Questions, comments about the TCN?  Please write the editor, Bernie Wagenblast at   

© 2009 Bernie Wagenblast

Flying Lesson 101: Check gas before taking off

May 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

(Source: The Gazette via AP)

Image Courtesy:

A retired Air Force colonel with decades of experience as a flight instructor gave one of his students a hands-on lesson in a key principle of flying: Don’t run out of gas. Al Uhalt of Colorado Springs made a bumpy but safe landing in a field Thursday when the single-engine Aviat Husky he and a student were flying ran out of fuel near the end of a 45-minute lesson.

Neither Uhalt nor the student, 16-year-old Kyle Sundman, was injured and the plane was undamaged.

Uhalt says he’s embarrassed. Kyle’s grandfather, Jim Young, who owns the plane, was flying behind them. He says he didn’t worry because he knew Uhalt was experienced and the plane was rugged.

Insanity, redefined – This road bomb weighing 500kilos can hurl you from 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds

May 29, 2009 at 5:39 pm

(Source: Wired)

As the world watched the Spelling Bee competition, I was reading up on the eye candy parked above.  Upon reading, I went searching the dictionary to find the meaning for the word insane, which is listed as follows: In·sane [in-seyn ] – adj. [Latin: insanus] – Not sane, mentally ill or deranged; demented; mad.  But British automaker, Ariel, is trying to change this meaning by doing something that’s much more crazy.  With the wisdom achieved during the development Atom 300, of one of the fastest cars on Earth, which is already achieving sub 3 second times to 60mph and sub 7 second times to 100mph, the folks at Ariel went to work on  the Ariel 500

The limited-edition Ariel Atom 500 is  a 500-kilo (1,100-lbs) smartlooking “bomb”, sporting a 500-horsepower 3.0-liter V8 engine capable of hurling the occupants down the highway at an astoninshing speed (0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds).  Simon Saunders, Director of Ariel,  has this much to say about the Atom 500: “For a few customers the Atom 500 will be the ultimate expression of lightweight performance and represents the outer limits of what is achievable in a road registered car. ”   It is reported that only 25 copies of this vehicle will be offered in the United States at a date and price to be determined.

The only question that comes to mind is what is the purpose of a passenger seat in this vehicle? No way in hell can the driver or the passenger have a conversation traveling at such a neck-breaking speed.   So, I am convinced the sole purpose of having this passenger seat is to pass the eligibility criteria for a “street car”.   A quick check on Google for the 0-60mph speed table shows that a standard Formula One car would clock that at 2.8secs, which is definitely slower than the Atom 500 fitted with a passenger seat.   If that passenger seat is removed, the reduction in weight might make the vehicle even lighter, contributing to a further increment in speed.   Now, imagine showing up at work in one of these!