CAEATFA Approves 48% Of Record Tesla Model 3 STE Request

Since 2009, the California Alternative Energy And Advanced Transportation Financing Authority (CAEATFA) has handed out more than $100 million in sales tax exemption (STE) tax relief to Tesla Motors, the main beneficiary of the state government program.  Tesla’s latest application, which requested about $100 million in STE on the purchase of more than a billion dollars worth of equipment that the automaker will use to develop and build its Model 3 sedan [previous coverage here], was by far the biggest application in the program’s history and comes as the program faces record demand for tax relief. As a result of this high demand and Tesla’s historical domination of the program, CAEATFA approved just 48% of Tesla’s massive Model 3 request at its December 13 meeting, leaving more than half of its latest request unfunded.

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Analysis: Understanding Tesla’s Potemkin Swap Station

Where are the customers?

Where are the customers?

The return of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) to the US market nearly a century after internal combustion technology swept them aside is one of the most compelling automotive stories of the last decade, bringing a much-needed injection of fresh ideas and enthusiasm to an increasingly mature and commodified industry. Though BEVs remain less than 1% of global auto sales, they have become immensely important to automakers by aiding compliance with various emissions regulations, as well as creating an aura of environmental responsibility and technological innovation. The immense power of these incentives is made manifest in Tesla, the Silicon Valley-based BEV maker that has defied the industry’s immense challenges to startups and become the hottest automotive brand in the world. Despite selling just 31,655 vehicles in 2014, a tiny fraction of the industry’s global volume, Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk receive huge amounts of (largely favorable) media coverage and enjoy a market capitalization that exceeds far larger competitors like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Sales of BEVs continue to grow in the face of lower gas prices, but nearly every model still sells far below initial estimates. Even President Obama’s goal of putting a million plug-in vehicles (BEVs and plug-in hybrids [PHEVs]) on US roads by 2015 has turned out to be wildly optimistic. The high cost of lithium-ion batteries is widely considered a key limiting factor on the growth of BEVs, but just as important is the issue of range and recharging; in a market long accustomed to the convenience of gasoline, the limited range and long recharging time of BEVs remains a major barrier to consumer acceptance. Though rapid charging infrastructure has grown as more BEVs have been brought to market, they still require at least 30 minutes to deliver a meaningful amount of power, speed battery degradation, use competing charging standards, and remain far less common than gas stations.

These shortcomings have pushed some automakers, like Toyota and Hyundai, to avoid BEVs altogether in favor of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) that generate zero tailpipe emissions but can be recharged as rapidly as gasoline cars. The only other way to provide rapid refueling of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) involves swapping batteries rather than recharging them. This strategy was attempted by Project Better Place, a now-defunct firm that deployed battery swap stations and an innovative pricing structure in Israel and Denmark between 2008 and its 2013 bankruptcy, as well as several pilot projects elsewhere. When Better Place failed, the battery swap concept was widely seen as having been discredited. But by then, another startup had taken up the mantle of the promising-yet-challenging swap strategy: Tesla.

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The Ballad Of Dirty Harry

Go ahead punk, make my day

Go ahead punk, make my day

This week’s news that activist investors are seeking $8 billion in stock buybacks from General Motors has reignited a nearly half century of concerns that the once-dominant automaker continues to prioritize short-term results over long-term strategy. Already behind the competition on global platform rationalization, fuel efficiency, pricing power and luxury-brand margins, GM clearly has better things to do with its cash than give it away to investors. But while analysts and investors wrestle with these issues, taxpayers face an even more troubling question: how is it possible that they lost over $10 billion on GM’s equity only to have Wall Street strip $8 billion in cash from the company with the help of a member of the president’s auto task force?

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Does Beijing-Shanghai Tension Spell Trouble For GM and VW?

Jiang Zemin and the Communist Youth League, in happier times.

Jiang Zemin and the Communist Youth League, in happier times.

 

Ever since the dramatic 2012 downfall of the colorful Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai, the Western press has been fascinated with China’s “princeling” plutocrats and the Central Government’s efforts to restrain them. No wonder: the battle is China’s basic political division, pitting the bureaucratic and ideological power of the Beijing Central government against the economic power of Southern Chinese entrepreneurs centered around Shanghai. Under former Shanghai mayor Jiang Zemin, China opened rapidly to the foreign investment that spurred decades of florid economic expansion… and sowed the seeds of China’s major political problems, corruption, inequality and environmental ruin. The downfall of Bo Xilai, a protege of Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai clique and member of its successor “Princeling” clique, was taken as a sign that Xi Jinping is serious about continuing Hu Jintao’s campaign against the ill-gotten gains of the Shanghai boom… a signal that is growing louder as the investigations widen.

Why the ten-cent lecture on Chinese politics? Shanghai’s automotive star rose alongside Jiang Zemin’s, and the city with which the he is synonymous has become one of China’s biggest automotive players and partner to the two biggest foreign presences in China, Volkswagen and GM. If Xi Jinping’s reform movement continues to target Shanghai and  its Princelings, and especially if the investigations draw closer to Zemin himself, automakers could find themselves on awkward ground. Caught between the guanxi (connections) culture of the world’s new largest market for cars and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of what is still the most profitable market for cars, automakers with Shanghai exposure have reason for concern.

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