Delaware appears to be an early winner in the nation's green-car movement as Vice President Biden, the state's former U.S. senator, is expected to announce today that a two-year-old California luxury-car company will reopen the shuttered General Motors plant on Boxwood Road near Wilmington to assemble plug-in electric-hybrid vehicles.
The 3.2-million-square-foot factory opened in 1947 and was closed this summer when General Motors discontinued the two brands manufactured there: Pontiac and Saturn. The decision was part of GM's bankruptcy reorganization.
Auto plants have been closing for years on the East and West Coasts as production moved to low-cost manufacturing areas in the industrial Midwest and South. A new investment by an auto company in Delaware when there are so many other idle auto plants in the United States comes as a surprise.
The U.S. government, though, is investing billions of dollars into new technology for green cars, and one of the leading companies in the industry, Fisker Automotive Inc., of Irvine, Calif., has taken a liking to the idled GM plant.
Fisker chief executive officer Henrik Fisker was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that a U.S. Fisker plant would likely employ 1,500 workers and produce 100,000 cars a year, many of them for export. The Delaware plant's capacity is 250,000 vehicles a year and is easily accessible to the Port of Wilmington.
Officials did not say what Fisker was paying for the facility, or how it will be financed.
Biden's office was not commenting yesterday, but he is scheduled to appear today at the General Motors plant for a 10 a.m. news conference with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and other state officials.
Markell spokesman Joe Rogalsky would not comment on specifics of the announcement. But, he said, "The plant has a great story to tell, and the governor looks forward to helping tell that story with the vice president and Delaware workers."
An announcement of new auto-related jobs will come as the Obama administration is facing criticism for rising unemployment rates despite huge economic-stimulus spending meant to wrench the nation's economy out of recession. The deal also deepens the U.S. government's role in the auto industry. It already owns 61 percent of the reorganized General Motors Co., the nation's largest automaker, and a smaller share of Chrysler Group L.L.C.
Officials with United Autoworkers Local 435, which represent the GM workers in Delaware, will attend today's event. Over the last several days, union volunteers called laid-off Delaware autoworkers to ask for members to attend the event to show support. David Myers, the local's president, was not available yesterday because he was picking up union "dignitaries" for the event.
Horace "Chip" Ott, owner of Volkswagen of Langhorne and the authorized Fisker dealer in the Philadelphia area, also is expected to attend, said Dave Swartz, general manager of the dealership.
Fisker is currently preselling an $87,900 luxury vehicle called the Karma, Swartz said. Sixteen people in the Philadelphia area have preordered the car, he said. The Karma will be manufactured in Finland.
To finance development of its new cars and the expansion, Fisker secured a $528.7 million loan in September from the U.S. Department of Energy. The loan is part of a $25 billion federal program, created by Congress in the midst of the financial meltdown in late 2008 to promote green cars.
Fisker cars run on lithium-ion batteries and gasoline engines. They plug into an electrical outlet to recharge overnight, according to Fisker, which is partly backed by Silicon Valley venture funds.
The U.S.-made car will cost $48,000, closer to $40,000 after federal tax rebates, the company says.
Headquarters: Irvine, Calif.
Chief executive: Henrik Fisker
First project: Developing the Karma electric car, which will be available next summer and sell for $87,900.
Second project: Named Project Nina, this electric car is the one that may be made in Delaware. The price will be $48,000 before a federal tax credit of $7,500. Availability: 2012.
Funding: The U.S. Dept. of Energy in September approved a loan of $528.7 million to develop both cars.
SOURCES: Fisker Automotive Inc., Inquirer wire services