News Briefs: March 27, 2012

Here's what we have our eye on today:

  • The House Science Committee is investigating the Obama Administration's support for electric vehicles, specifically whether administration officials still believe the U.S. can have 1 million plug-in vehicles by 2015, The Detroit News reports. President Barack Obama established the 2015 target on the campaign trail in 2008 and reiterated it during his presidency, but in light of low demand, the White House has revised the language to project component capacity — not sales — for 1 million plug-ins by 2015. A letter from the panel's GOP chairman criticized Obama's proposal to increase plug-in tax credits by 33% and argued that federal funding to boost electric vehicles — which amounts to more than $13 billion — could create energy cronies among competing companies. The Energy Department responded to the Detroit News by reiterating the administration's widespread approach to lowering energy costs for consumers.
  • Following an agreement signed last December, BMW and Toyota announced that collective research on "the field of next-generation lithium-ion battery cells" has begun. Both companies hope to increase performance and capacity of the batteries, which all EVs and many hybrids now use. As part of the agreement, BMW will provide 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter diesel engines to Toyota in Europe.
  • The U.S. Treasury wants to break up and sell portions of Ally Financial, the preferred lender for GM and Chrysler, rather than generating cash through a stock offering, Bloomberg News reports. The resulting sections would be Ally's auto-financing unit, which serves some 15 million customers, and its online bank. The Treasury committed $17.2 billion to bailing out Ally, formerly GMAC, and now owns 74% of the company. But sources tell Bloomberg that officials doubt a successful IPO because of failed stress tests, high capital costs and a troubled mortgage unit. The shakeout may have Chrysler switching to Wells Fargo and other lenders to replace Ally, Bloomberg notes.
  • Honda resumed vehicle production at its plant in Thailand on Monday, Reuters reports. Flooding in the region shut the facility for six months, and the resulting shortage in global parts had the automaker expecting delays on its redesigned CR-V that never panned out.
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