Gm Plant Gets U.s. Stimulus Money

White Marsh To Help Develop Electric Car Parts

August 06, 2009|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,

The General Motors transmission plant in White Marsh was one of several plants chosen by the federal government Wednesday to receive part of $2.4 billion in stimulus grants to be used to develop batteries and other parts for electric cars.

The plant, along with a GM plant in Wixom, Mich., will share in $105 million to develop a rear-wheel-drive electric system.

The grants, which will fund 48 projects, come from the $800 billion economic stimulus bill Congress passed earlier this year to help create jobs and move the country out of the recession.

The investment in electric cars furthers the Obama administration's environmental goals, which include making the country less dependent on oil and promoting the use of more fuel-efficient cars. The stimulus bill includes billions of dollars in "clean energy projects."

It is not clear what impact the grants will have on job creation and other factors at the White Marsh plant, but they could provide some stability amid GM's layoffs and plant closings.

President Barack Obama and his Cabinet members fanned out across the country to cities that would receive the stimulus - Charlotte, N.C., St. Petersburg, Fla., and Elkhart, Ind. - to announce the grants.

The grants, which require a match in spending from the companies, are expected to create "tens of thousands of jobs," Obama said in announcing the project at Navistar International Corp. in Indiana. Navistar will receive $39 million to manufacture hybrid trucks.

"For the first time in history, we passed a bill to create a system of clean-energy incentives which will help make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America, while helping to end our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations," Obama said. The administration said the investment is the largest ever made in advanced battery technology for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Most of the money, $1.5 billion, will go toward the production of advanced batteries that could allow electric cars to drive longer distances. Another $500 million pays for creating electric drive components.The remaining $400 million would purchase and support thousands of plug-in hybrids and electric cars to be tested, as well as to provide work force training and education. Several universities were also awarded grant money.

GM executives said Wednesday that they did not have specific details about the impact the grant would have on the White Marsh plant and if it would mean the creation of new jobs. They also didn't know how the $105 million would be divvied up between White Marsh and Wixom. The company applied to the Department of Energy for the grant in April and got confirmation it was chosen Wednesday morning.

"We are very happy about today's announcement," John Raut, a spokesman for the White Marsh plant, said in a statement. "The company is currently studying its options and will have more to announce in the near future."

The grant could provide a sense of security to the White Marsh plant. GM, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, has been closing plants and reducing its work force as it strives to operate as a smaller company. This week the company announced that layoffs are likely because it fell short of the company's work force reduction goal after about 6,000 blue-collar workers had taken the latest round of early retirement and buyout offers. GM has about 54,000 factory workers and wants to end the year with 40,500, or 13,500 fewer workers.

"A few months ago we weren't sure what was going to happen," said Mike Galiazzo, executive director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland. "I think it's good as far as workers are concerned. Hopefully, it means that they're not going to be laid off, that they'll be working, and it's giving the plant options to make things beyond hybrid transmissions."

Kerry Christopher, a national GM spokesman, said the company would be able to release details soon. "We really want to move forward quickly," he said.

"It's good news for all the companies that were mentioned today," Christopher said.

Obama said that America has for too long let other countries such as China and Japan pass the country in technology.

"I'm committed to a strategy that ensures America leads in the design and the deployment of the next generation of clean-energy vehicles," Obama said. "This is not just an investment to produce vehicles today; this is an investment in our capacity to develop new technologies tomorrow. This is about creating the infrastructure of innovation."

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