They’re at it again! Originally created by Congress in 2007, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program provided low-cost government loans that were subsidized, and then in part eaten as we now know, by hapless and strung-out American taxpayers. In 2011, it was left behind as dead, but now the government wants to bring that zombie back.
New vehicle sales have staged a phenomenal recovery from the financial crisis, when buyers went on strike. Sales below the replacement rate create a vacuum that wants to be filled. Pent-up demand. When it kicked in, sales jumped by over 10% annually. Exuberance took over the bludgeoned industry. But late February, something happened to that vacuum.
The announcement couldn’t have been more glorious in crisis-struck Italy: Ferrari booked records sales and profits in 2012. Dazzling in every aspect. Not a single cloud darkened the horizon. Except in Italy where sales collapsed. And in the rest of the world, where central-bank printer ink stained the records.
The preannouncement came Thursday evening: PSA Peugeot Citroën, France’s largest automaker, would have a write-down of €4.7 billion. On top of a hefty operating loss. It would be colossal. An all-time record. Rumors spread immediately that PSA would need a bailout. The second in four months.
Japan’s LDP went all out last year to re-grab power. Its platform: print and borrow with utter abandon to create asset bubbles and inflation, and to demolish the yen. Phenomenally successful! So far. But now, US automakers are squealing; they want President Obama to fight back—though the US has been printing and borrowing with utter abandon for years.
“Volkswagen has chosen to wipe out PSA,” said a source in President Hollande’s entourage. PSA Peugeot Citroën, Europe’s second largest automaker, is teetering. Volkswagen Group, Europe’s largest automaker, is an invincible giant—that wants to reduce overcapacity in Europe “on the backs of the French,” the source said. Hence a secret plan, a desperate, misbegotten, and taxpayer-funded deal.
On September 14, 1899, Henry Bliss stepped off a streetcar in Manhattan and got run over by a taxi. The first automobile fatality in the US. The taxi was an electric vehicle. As were 90% of the taxis in the city and about 30% of all cars sold in the US. Electric cars aren’t exactly new. Yet, the government is bleeding taxpayers to advance that technology, create jobs at a cost of $158,556 per job, and fund executive bonuses.
The Paris auto show should have been exciting. Over 100 new models from econo-boxes to exotic prototypes. Chicks next to some of them. Nausea-inducing colors, downsized motors. Something for everyone. But it had been preceded by supplier events loaded with the dire verbiage of an industry on a death march. Particularly in France, whose private sector is veering into economic fiasco. And on Monday, it became official.
Last year, German exports rode to a new record, jobs were being created in massive numbers, real wages rose, housing and real estate boomed, the federal budget was nearly balanced, and consumers felt good and spent money. There were moments in 2012 that made people dream of a repeat performance—despite the havoc that the Eurozone debt crisis has been wreaking. But now, the German export machinery is shifting down with an ear-piercing screech.
The strongest and toughest creatures out there that no one has been able to subdue yet, the inexplicable American consumers, are digging in their heels though the entire power structure has been pushing them relentlessly to buy more and more with money they don’t have, and borrow against future income they might never make, just so that GDP can edge up for another desperate quarter. But it’s been tough.