Explaining Southern California's economy

Is Tesla Motors running out of money — again?

Tesla Worldwide Debut of Model X

Jordan Strauss/Getty Images for Tesla

Tesla's recently revealed Model X crossover electric vehicle. The company has just announced a new sale of shares to raise money — and avoid payment problems with a Department of Energy loan.

Tesla Motors, the startup electric carmaker whose CEO, Elon Musk, also runs private space-exploration firm SpaceX, is having another one of its periodic financial near-heart attacks. The latest news is that the company, which staged a $226-million IPO in 2010, wants to sell additional stock. A second offering of 6.9 million shares would bring in close to $150 million. [UPDATE: As a commenter notes, the offering was rather less than 40 million shares. Don't know where I got that... Also, this is Tesla's second secondary offering. So really, it's the third offering, including the IPO.]

Why? Yet another cash crunch for the company, which was pretty close to checking out in 2008, before Musk managed to find additional funding and do a deal with Daimler. The critical issue this time around involves the Department of Energy and it controversial loan program for greentech companies. Who can forget Solyndra? But electric cars are also a substantial part of the program, with both Tesla and Fisker Automotive — the two biggest names in alt.transportation — winning loans.

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Amonix: More woes for government-supported solar startups

Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) River Mountains Water Treatment Facility, Henderson, NV, USA

Carlos Alejandro

Amonix panels at the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Amonix has hit serious financial troubles and will be closing a Las Vegas manufacturing facility.

Solyndra, a solar startup that went bankrupt last year, has become a poster child for what many conservatives think is a failed effort by the Obama Administration to support the U.S. cleantech industry. The story isn't as simple or straightforward as that, but it does bring up the debate anytime another green energy company with government funding gets into trouble.

That's what appears to be happening now with Amonix, a Seal Beach-based solar company that's been struggling in the tragic aftermath of the death of CEO Brian Robertson in a plane crash last year. The startup has laid off workers in California and is now shutting down a manufacturing facility in Las Vegas, according to the company. Some kind of "restructuring" looms, but it's unclear whether that means Chapter 11 bankruptcy or Chapter 7 liquidation. 

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Retired auto exec LaSorda to run struggling electric carmaker Fisker

Vanity Fair & Fisker Automotive Toast Dreamworks Pictures Golden Globes Best Drama Nominations "The Help" And "War Horse"

Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Marti Eulberg (L) and Ciara attend Vanity Fair & Fisker Automotive Toast Dreamworks Pictures Golden Globes Best Drama Nominations 'The Help' And 'War Horse' at Cecconi's Restaurant on January 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

I don't really think this is good news. Fisker Automotive, the startup electric carmaker, is really starting to huff and puff just as rival Tesla Motors is preparing to blast off. Founder Henrik Fisker has handed over the leadership reins to Tom LaSorda, a veteran of Detroit and specifically of Chrysler. But LaSorda labored at Chrysler during the automaker's failed marriage to Germany's Daimler. And when Daimler dumped Chrysler in to the arms of private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, LaSorda was content to play second banana to what I consider one of the least effective CEOs every to grace the Motor City, Robert Nardelli, who previously had caused all manner of problems for Home Depot.

It should be pointed out that Fisker only current vehicle, the Karma, isn't even a pure EV. It's a plug-in hyrbrid, with a drivetrain similar to the Chevy Volt. Unlike the Volt, which sells for roughly $41,000 (before tax credits of up to $7,500), the Karma goes for $103,000. A cheaper model, dubbed "Nina," is on the drawing board, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, Fisker lost the $529 million Department of Energy loan guarantee it need to move forward on the vehicle.

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Fisker electric-car scandal: Is this the new Solyndra?

Biden Announces Conversion Of Idled GM Plant To Electric Car Manufacturing

Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

WILMINGTON, DE - OCTOBER 27: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the former GM Boxwood Plant on October 27, 2009 in Wilmington, Delaware. Fisker Automotive announced that the company is buying the plant to produce affordable plug-in hybrid automobiles. (Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joe Biden

The Department of Energy's $535 loan gurantee to bankrupt solar startup Solyndra has become the Obama Administration's first quasi-scandal, with critics insisting that the government shouldn't be funding risky green-energy companies and supporters (myself included) arguing that the government is the only investor that can handle the risk. But now the bickering has spread beyond solar to the go-go world of electric vehicles — just as "Revenge of the Electric Car," the sequel to "Who Killed the Electric Car," is hitting theaters.

ABCNews and the Center for Public Integrity have teamed up to investigate DOE loans guarantees, focusing on two marquee EV companies, Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, which together have received about a billion in government-backed financing. The takeaway isn't pretty:

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California has the solar jobs, but will it ever have the solar scale?

Mercer 20725

Solyndra

A Solyndra solar rooftoop installation.

Here's some good news for the solar industry, in the aftermath of the Solyndra scandal. The LA Times reports that California is basically SolarLand, USA:

California's solar jobs tally was more than four times greater than runner-up Colorado, which had 6,186 solar jobs.

The Golden State ranked first in the nation for generating electricity from both photovoltaic solar panels and concentrated solar power systems that use mirrors to create steam to run turbines, the study said.

The report goes on to anticipate 24 percent industry growth over the next year, taking the total number of California jobs up to about 50,000 (there are currently about 25,000). 

That sounds great, but as I've pointed out before, will it be enough? No one has really ever questioned that solar is growing as an industry. The problem is one of scale: Can solar ever attract enough investment to rival traditional sources of power generation, particularly super-cheap coal? 

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