Bob Lutz takes a hard left: Retiring GM product czar loves auto task force

May 29, 2009 at 4:31 pm

(Source: Autoweek)

Bob Lutz, General Motors’ soon-to-retire product czar, said Thursday that not only does he support and endorse the work of President Barack Obama’s automotive task force, but he’d also like to see the government-industry entity become a permanent fixture.

 “Benevolent oversight and two-way communication between Washington and the auto industry” would be a good thing, Lutz told members of the Automotive Press Association at a luncheon Thursday in Detroit.

“Jeez, it only took 30 years for somebody to finally figure it out,” he said.

Lutz cited–and praised–the new federal fuel-economy regulations as an example of what industry and government can do when they work together. Though the new CAFE requirements mandate 35.5 mpg by 2016, Lutz said many parts of the new rules reflect industry positions on the particulars of the law.

The positions voiced by Lutz seem at odds with the suggestion that the GM product vice chairman is leaving GM at year’s end in part because he doesn’t want to deal with life at “Government Motors,” which GM has been called since taking government loans and accepting task-force oversight.

On the contrary, Lutz said, he began to warm to the task-force members when they visited Detroit and seemed more interested in the 560-hp Cadillac CTS coupe than in GM’s more economical offerings.

“That was sort of the moment that I began to take heart,” Lutz said.

(FYI -You can also listen to an audio commentary by folks @ Autoweek on Mr. Lutz words about GM’s future.)

India ponders fuel price deregulation; News sparks a rally for refinery shares

May 29, 2009 at 3:39 pm

(Source: Bloomberg & Wall Street Journal)

India may lift a 5 1/2-year cap on pump prices of gasoline and diesel, the first market-opening move by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since his election victory this month. Shares of refiners surged.

Oil Minister Murli Deora said he plans to seek cabinet approval within six weeks to free up fuel prices from state control. “The government has taken notice and is working on” a proposal, he told reporters in New Delhi.“We will ensure that fuels reach people at the right time and at the right price,” Deora said today.

Indian state-owned refiners used to set retail fuel prices twice a month after the government ended controls on oil products in April 2002. That stopped in December 2003 after the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led government barred them from raising rates before the May 2004 elections.

State-owned Indian Oil Corp., the nation’s biggest refiner, surged to a 16-month high on optimism the new government will scrap a policy that caused a loss of 36.7 billion rupees ($776 million) in the nine months ended December after oil prices rose to a record in July. Lifting the cap will enable refiners to profit from crude oil’s 47 percent advance this year. 
State-run fuel retailers Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum are likely to have posted combined losses of 1.03 trillion rupees ($21.68 billion) for the year ended March 31, due mainly to sales of products at government-mandated prices.  The retailers are partly compensated through oil bonds issued by the federal government, and partly by discounts given on crude oil by upstream companies like Oil and Natural Gas Corp.

Mr. Deora said the government would consider deregulating prices of natural gas only after a decision on deregulating oil prices is taken.

“Free pricing will solve most of the problems for the Indian state-owned oil companies,” said Vinay Nair, a Mumbai- based analyst at Khandwala Securities Ltd. “A change in ratings of these companies or changing our call on the stocks will depend on what real policy changes the government makes.”

Indian Oil gained 6.8 percent to 609 rupees in Mumbai trading, the highest level since Jan. 17, 2008. Bharat Petroleum Corp., the second-biggest state-run refiner, climbed 3.7 percent to 464.70 rupees, while Hindustan Petroleum Corp. added 8.4 percent to 362.95 rupees.

Indian Oil shares have climbed 42 percent since Prime Minister Singh’s government was re-elected on May 16 without the support of communist lawmakers who oppose fuel-price increases. That led to speculation that the government will relax the pricing curbs. The benchmark Sensitive Index has gained 20 percent in the same period and advanced 52 percent this year.

State refiners sell automobile and cooking fuels below cost, at prices fixed by the government, to curb inflation which has held below 1 percent for 11 straight weeks. Retail fuel prices haven’t been changed since January, when they were cut for the second time in two months.

Breaking News: Opel and Magna Reach Preliminary Agreement with GM; UK’s Vauxhall may be next for Magna

May 29, 2009 at 2:36 pm

(Source: Automobile Magazine & Autoblog & CNN Money)

The Opel affair

General Motors and Canadian auto supplier Magna have reached a preliminary deal regarding GM’s European Opel brand. According to Reuters, the companies have agreed on a plan to allow Magna to invest in the German automaker.

“We have an agreement in principle between GM and Magna,” one source said.  Magna and GM still have details to work out before the two are expected to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. One government spokesman said separately that the meeting had been pushed back until 6:00 p.m. to provide time for the ongoing negotiations. 

While an agreement has been reached between the two parties, the German government – which has agreed to provide financial assistance for Opel – needs to sign off on the matter. Magna and GM have signed a memorandum of understanding that will reportedly help Opel secure some 1.5 billion euros ($2.1B USD) in bridge loans, as well as shore up protections against creditors in the event of a GM bankruptcy.

For its part, Magna will reportedly pour somewhere between 500-700 million euros into Opel, and it plans to cut 10% of the marque’s workforce in Germany – about 2,500 employees.   Interestingly, GM will reportedly hold on to a 35% stake in the brand, while Opel workers themselves will end up with 10% of the company.

The future of Vauxhall?

No word yet on what will happen to Vauxhall, Opel’s UK twin.  But it looks like Magna might also be adding Vauxhall to its portfolio.  According to a  report filed by Dow Jones on CNN Money the U.K. Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said that it is “pretty likely” Canadian car components makerMagna International Inc. (MGA) and General Motors (GM) will become shared owners of U.K.-based carmaker Vauxhall.

Speaking to Sky News and BBC television, Mandelson said he would seek a “very early” further meeting with the parties once the initial talks had been concluded to secure a “cast iron guarantee” on U.K. production and employment.

“I have no doubt that the British government … will be asked to underwrite the deal financially and I have already said that the British government in principle would be prepared to consider that, but that would be linked to production and employment in the U.K.,” he said.

GM’s U.K. unit has two plants manufacturing Vauxhall, Opel (OPL.V), Renault ( RNO.FR), and Nissan (NSANY) models and employs a total of about 5,500 people.

He added Magna’s willingness to contribute bridging finance supported its case. Italian automaker Fiat SpA(F.MI) said earlier it remained interested in Opel but there was nothing more to discuss until GM, the German government and U.S. Treasury had settled their differences.

Fiat pulls out of Opel talks with German government over funding

May 29, 2009 at 1:01 pm

(Source: Times Online, UK)

Fiat has pulled out of talks with the German Government about Opel, blaming “unreasonable” funding demands, but emphasised that it was not withdrawing its bid for General Motors’ European unit, which owns Opel and Vauxhall.

Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s chief executive, said that Germany had asked his car group to provide emergency funds for Opel, which would expose it to “extravagant risks”.

Mr Marchionne said “The last round of requests which would require Fiat, among other things, to fund Opel on an emergency basis while the German Government determines the exact timing and conditions of interim financing, would expose Fiat to unnecessary and unwarranted risks.”

Mr Marchionne said that he had not been granted full access to Opel’s financial records and so it was unreasonable to ask Fiat to provide emergency funds. Because today’s meeting will focus specifically on Opel, Fiat would not be attending, he said. However, he said that Fiat remained interested in a potential deal with GM.

“We remain committed to finding ways to bridge the expectations of both General Motors and the German Government, but the emergency nature of the situation cannot put Fiat in a position to take extravagant risks,” he said.

Gareth Thomas, the Trade Minister, will attend the emergency talks in Brussels today. A Commission spokeswoman said: “The aim of the meeting is to exchange information and ensure a level playing field for co-ordination.”

GM is heading for what would be the biggest bankruptcy by an American industrial company after bondholders owning about 20 per cent of its $27.2 billion (£17 billion) unsecured debt agreed to accept a 10 per cent stake in a restructured company and warrants to buy a further 15 per cent in return for forgiving its debt.

A news report from Reuters indicates that top ministers from the German government will meet in Berlin to discuss the future of the Opel unit of General Motors (GM.N) on Friday but no U.S. government officials or representatives from GM will join in, a German government official said on Friday.

Potential bidders Magna and Fiat will not participate in the meeting either, said the official who requested anonymity.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu rules out raising petrol prices to European levels through increased taxes or regulation; says politically infeasible

May 28, 2009 at 11:10 pm

(Source: Financial Times)

Reducing America’s reliance on oil by raising petrol prices to European levels through increased taxes or regulation is not politically feasible, says Steven Chu, US secretary of energy.

The admission comes as Congress considers a cap- and-trade system that opponents say will substantially increase petrol prices just as oil prices soar to their highest level in six months.

In the past Mr Chu, a Nobel laureate, has argued that, if the US wanted to reduce its carbon emissions, policymakers would have to find a way to increase petrol prices to levels in Europe. But in an interview on Wednesday with the Financial Times, Mr Chu said: “At this moment, let me be frank, it is not politically feasible.”

Higher petrol prices are likely to be one of the biggest potential sticking points ofPresident Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade system when the bill moves from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to the more conservative Senate late this year.

Mr Chu’s move against using taxes to raise US petrol prices is likely to frustrate environmental advocates who believe that the only way seriously to change Americans’ consumption habits is through higher prices.

Unlike Europe, the US hardly taxes its fuel, leading to pump prices that are often one third of those in Europe and to the average American consuming double the amount of oil of his European counterpart.

But Mr Chu warns that Americans will have to learn to live with higher petrol prices even if Washington does not enact policy that boosts them.

“Regardless of what one does in any sort of taxation, I believe that prices of oil and natural gas will go up in the coming decades,” he said, adding: “They will naturally go up just because of fundamental supply and demand issues.”

Mr Chu was adamant that a cap-and-trade system would be necessary to cut emissions. “We need to begin to put a price on carbon. We need to ratchet down the carbon,” he said.

The bill currently under consideration in Congress would reduce emissions by about 2 per cent a year.

A key question, however, was “how to help the US make the transition”, he said. Many states are heavily dependent on coal, or have energy-intensive industries, and the administration will need to win over lawmakers from these states to have a chance of passing the legislation.

Click here to read the entire article.

British government gets a shock over its electric vehicle plan

May 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

(Source: Autobloggreen & Royal Automobile Club Foundation)

A new study by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation found that as many as 6.75 million British drivers are thinking about or could consider buying an electric vehicle – once they become available, of course. RAC surveyed 1,000 motorists over two weekends this month and asked the question: “Would you consider or are you planning on purchasing an electric car within the next five years?” Twenty percent picked either “Yes, would consider” or “Yes, planning on purchasing an electric car.” We’re right there with you, says the UK government, which will offer incentives worth up to £5,000 for EVs starting in 2011.

Also, the RAC points out that 20 percent of 33.8 million drivers means there could be a lot of people who want but can’t buy an EV. They say, “The RAC Foundation has discovered that by the Government’s own reckoning electric vehicles won’t be available on the mass market until at least 2017, leaving millions of potential buyers frustrated.”

Commenting on the findings, the director of the RAC Foundation Professor Stephen Glaister had the following words:

  • “What the Government is in danger of doing is putting the cart before the horse. It is actively promoting the purchase of electric vehicles long before there is any chance of manufacturers making them widely available.”
  • “It has gone out of its way to encourage people to make green choices, yet these choices are not yet realistic.”
  • “Ministers’ thinking on green technology is all over the place. They talk of incentives of up to £5,000 for prospective buyers of electric cars from 2011. Yet at that stage there will be almost nothing in the showroom for people to purchase.”
  • “The RAC Foundation fully supports the introduction of green vehicles. But electric cars are not the short-term solution. What the Government should be doing is improving the road network and encouraging manufacturers to refine existing technology. That means increasing road capacity to cut congestion and CO2 emissions; focussing on producing leaner petrol and diesel engines; and making smaller and lighter cars.”
Here is the RAC press release:

Event Alert: Intelligent Transportation Systems in the Airport Environment — August 3-5, 2009 @ Salt Lake City, Utah

May 28, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Event Details:

This conference is co-sponsored by American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) – will showcase the top industry leaders in the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) industry who are currently providing solutions for airport landside management.  The conference will also feature airport personnel sharing real-world results, lessons learned, success stories bad reasons why they have chosen ITS products and services as their airport land side management solution.

Airport land side management has increasingly become a focus for airport managers and transportation management center mangers alike.  More and more, airport managers are turning to Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) to provide solutions to the challenges they face, such as managing parking, commercial vehicle movement, incident management, security and much more.


To register as an attendee, you may register online or download a registration form (form coming soon) and fax to (202) 484-3483.

Registration Fee: (in U.S. funds drawn on a U.S. bank) 
(includes one welcome reception, two continental breakfasts, one lunch, coffee/refreshment breaks, and all handouts) 

Members             $525 
Non-members     $575 

 ITSA/AAAE reserves the right to cancel this program if the number of registrants is insufficient. In this event, we will notify all registrants and refund the registration fee in full. However, any costs incurred by the registrant, such as hotel cancellation or airline penalties, are the responsibility of the registrant. Confirmation letters will be e-mailed to attendees. If you have not received a confirmation letter via e-mail two business days prior to the meeting, and you enrolled at least 15 days prior to the meeting, please contact Sharon Alexander atITS America, 800-374-8472 . Non-receipt of the confirmation letter before the meeting is not justification for seeking a refund.

Cancellation Policy: Registrations and cancellations must be submitted in writing. Refund requests received before 7/17/09 are subject to a $125 processing fee. There will be no refunds after this date. Substitutions will be accepted without penalties and no-shows will be billed. For all inquiries regarding cancellations and refunds, please contact Sharon Alexander atITS America, 800-374-8472  or e-mail

For other information such as Hotel, Transportation, etc, please visit the conference website.

America 2050 Forum: “Rebuilding and Renewing America — Infrastructure Strategies for the Southwest Megaregion” – June 19, 2009 @ Los Angeles, CA

May 28, 2009 at 6:22 pm

On Friday, June 19, America 2050 will be co-hosting the next “Rebuilding and Renewing America” forum, focused on infrastructure strategies for the Southwest Megaregion, encompassing Southern California, the Las Vegas metropolitan area and Baja California.    The forum will aim to build support for a national infrastructure plan needed for America to respond to the big challenges of rapid population growth, our dependence on foreign oil, climate change, global competitiveness, and deteriorating infrastructure, and identify the major transportation, energy and water infrastructure priorities in the Southwest Megaregion that are issues of national significance. 

Likewise, we hope to find common ground among metropolitan areas in the Southwest Megaregion on programs and policies that would help regions and subregions meet their core infrastructure challenges.  The forum marks the first major convening of the west coast office of America 2050, housed at the USC Bedrosian Center. The forum aims to establish a network of business, civic, government and academic organizations through the America 2050 west coast office who will continue to work on building the Southwest Megaregion and pushing its collective agenda.    

The forum will take place at the Davidson Conference Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles on Friday, June 19 from 8:00am to 3:30pm. There is a fee of $25.00 to attend.  Register online here.

Bernie’s Transportation Communications Newsletter(TCN) – May 28, 2009

May 28, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Thursday, May 28, 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) Connexion by Boeing’s Former King Marketer Uncensored

Link to column on Flightglobal:


2) Online Mapping Tool Promotes Bike Safety

Link to story and video in The Seattle Times:

Link to bikewise:


3) Q&A with US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Gary Blore About the New National Security Cutter Bertholf

Link to interview in Federal Computer Week:


4) Courtesy-Minded Metro Stands Up for Riders Who Shouldn’t Have to

Link to story in The Washington Post:


5) Latest Edition of Signal Online

Link to newsletter of the European Rail Traffic Management System:


6) New Sign Will Count and Display Accident-Free Days on US 2 in Washington State

Link to story in The Snohomish Times:

7) Rolling Wheel Deflectometer – Network-Level Pavement Structural Evaluation – Measuring Deflection at Highway Speeds

Link to further information from the Federal Highway Administration:


8) US-VISIT Tests New Approaches to Exit System

DHS will start testing two methods for electronically collecting and transmitting biometric data on non-citizens as they leave the US through airports.

Link to story in Federal Computer Week:

9) Ohio Troopers to Power Radios with Solar

Link to story in The Columbus Dispatch:


10) Sync Gets Traffic Application

Link to story in the Detroit Free Press:


11) Is God Dead? Or Just Not Riding the Bus?

Link to story in Time:,8599,1901301,00.html

12) Laval Commuters to Receive GPS Bus Updates

Link to story in The Gazette:

13) DC Metro Posting Signs for Next Bus Return

Link to column in The Washington Post:

News Releases

1) NTSB Expands Release of Accident Investigation Public Dockets Available on Web Site Beginning Next Week

2) DOT Secretary LaHood, US CTO Chopra, EPA Advisor Sussman, T&I Chairman Oberstar, Ranking Member Mica, Other Officials to Explore ITS Solutions to Nation’s Transportation, Economic, Environmental Challenges

3) Flyte Systems Installs Live Airline Information at LAX Airport Parking Complex – Will Also Include National Weather and Traffic Information for the Los Angeles Area

4) Brighter Lights On Roads at Night May Make Older Drivers Less Cautious: Ryerson Study

Upcoming Events

Intelligent Transportation Systems in the Airport Environment – August 3-5 – Salt Lake City

Today in Transportation History

1959 **50th anniversary** – Two monkeys became the first living creatures to survive a space flight.


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

Bikes Sales Outpace Cars and Trucks in 2009 Q1

May 27, 2009 at 10:56 pm

(Source: TreeHugger; HuffingtonPost & Bike Europe)

While news of the four-wheel variety remains bleak with news that GM is on the brinkof bankruptcy, news for the two wheel set is mostly good. In fact, more bicycles were bought in the first quarter of 2009 than cars and trucks. Dennis Markatos @ HuffingtonPost points out, the news isn’t all good. Overall, bicycle sales are down 30 percent for the year, but the good news is that bikes are outperforming cars. In total, around 2.6 million bicycles were sold, compared to less than 2.5 million cars and trucks.  That doesn’t mean all is well for the American bicycle market and it is hard to say that bicycle sales are unfazed by the recession.  In units the Americans imported 1.1 million bicycles less this year. Remarkably the average value increased by 37.2% in the same period. The average FOB value now stands at US$ 96.60 against US$ 70.41 in 2008.

But that percentage drop is slower than the35+% drop in sales for cars and trucks. Since nationwide gasoline prices are now rising above $2.40 per gallon at the pump, we may see another wave of US residents shifting to bicycles for their everyday trips. The large savings from riding a bike over short distances rather than driving can help consumer confidence and support economic recovery.

Dennis also points out that gas prices are on the rise, making it possible that the trend will continue for a while.