What Germany Knows

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Germany, nimble on the slopes of global economics. (Credit: Getty/Matthew Stockman)

A shout out today to Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor who considers, among other things, why Germany is flourishing while other developed economies flounder.

Marquand takes us to an industrial park near Dresden, where solar company Roth & Rau does nearly $300 million in sales, mostly to Asia.  They don't make solar panels. They tinkered with the coating requisite for the silicon wafers in solar panels, and developed it into a conductive film that gets 16 percent more electricity out of the transaction between sun and panel.

More than 1,500 small- and medium-sized firms in Germany produce high-end niche products. They're called Mittelstand, and they account for more than half of German exports and 70 percent of its workforce. Continue reading »

Zero Motorcycles to Manufacture More in Santa Cruz

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In January, Scotts Valley PD became the first law enforcement agency in California to buy Zero DS electric motorcycles. The DS has a range of up to 50 miles and is highway legal. (Credit: Zero Motorcycles)

The new facility in Santa Cruz is expected to double the company’s current production capacity, and then some.

Zero recently announced a $1.84 million ‘next generation’ powertrain project. Said Steve Salyer, Vice President of Operations: "Quality Control at the highest levels means personally inspecting each bike as it comes off the assembly line. Moreover, in the spirit of continual improvement and innovation, we believe that having our manufacturing and engineering teams collaborating within the same space gives us both an operational and developmental competitive advantage."

The new facility will bring Zero’s total production space to 34,000 square feet and is supported by a redevelopment grant from the city of Scotts Valley.

The company expects to roll out the first production motorcycle by the end of February. And hire twenty-five more employees before the end of the year.

Are You Willing to Pay to Keep Manufacturing Here?

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Cuter than a VW Beetle? The Triac, in UC Santa Cruz colors. (Credit: Green Vehicles)

Jeff Weir is economic development director for the city of Salinas. When he first arrived in Salinas three years ago, the first thing he did was review the past.

"Salinas used to have large numbers of manufacturing jobs: baggage handling systems, the processing of all kinds of spices, and jellies and jams. And then most of those disappeared. They went someplace else for a variety of different reasons: consolidation, lower costs, whatever. We’re going to rebuild that."

Easier said than done. Take, for instance, the old Firestone Tire & Rubber plant. A 43-acre former tire manufacturing plant sits on a 256-acre parcel of land that used to be a Super Fund site. More than a dozen companies share the Firestone space now, but it's all relatively small stuff: warehousing, distribution, light manufacturing, and so on. The space is there, but not necessarily the industry to fill it. Continue reading »

California: EV Designer for the World

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A Zap taxi, designed for the Chinese market. (Credit: KQED/Myrow)

Like it or not, California is competing for manufacturing jobs, with other states and overseas. In fact, local governments in foreign countries are competing with each other as well to lure American business.

Priscilla Lu, board chair of Zap in Santa Rosa, has worked on a number of projects with the city of Hongzhou over the years. She praises the way the government Beijing creates a competitive atmosphere with incentives.

"They actually reward the provinces that have higher GDP. The higher your GDP, the more support, the more financial support you’re going to get from the central government. So it’s almost kind of the reverse from, you know, what we’re used to here. Because here, it’s the states that are not doing well that get support!" Continue reading »

Boeing Downshifts in Long Beach

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US engineers walk past a C-130 Hercules at Aero India 2007 in Bangalore. The C-17, built to replace the C-130, is a remarkably versatile plane, but the US military requires only so many. The C-17's future depends on international sales from countries like India. (Credit: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Boeing has announced it's laying off 1,100 workers who build its giant C-17 cargo plane. Nine hundred of them work at the company's sprawling plant in Long Beach.Under Boeing's current layoff plan, the Long Beach plant will trim 400 jobs this year and 500 jobs in 2012.

KPCC's Brian Watt spoke to Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling, who said a drop in orders has forced the company to cut its production rate.

"When you're delivering fewer C-17s, a corresponding reduction of the workforce also has to take place."

As Watt has reported for us, that order book used to be full with demand from the U.S. Air Force. Of the 226 C-17s that Boeing has delivered in the last 18 years, the Air Force has taken 206. But the Department of Defense ordered just 10 C-17s in its 2010 fiscal year budget, none in its FY11 budget, and its 2012 budget is still up in the air. Continue reading »

Union Pacific Owns 160 Acres Around NUMMI Plant

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It used to be NUMMI. What next? (Credit: Jennifer Baires)

At the tail end of last year, Union Pacific Railroad bought the property in two parcels from New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. The price is as yet unknown.

"We plan to develop the property at an undetermined point in the future to provide service for our freight rail customers," Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt told the Oakland Tribune.

One parcel is directly north of the Tesla factory and the other is directly south. You'll recall the original property was 370 acres, with a 5.5 million-square-foot factory sitting on it that Toyota and GM used to make full use of. Now Toyota and Tesla use just a fraction of the facility. Continue reading »

Stoking Electric Car Lust in Detroit

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Behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S. (Credit: Tesla)

As the Detroit Auto Show gets ready to open to the public this Saturday, I direct your attention to one of the most detailed discussions of Tesla's hope for the future, by Wired's Chuck Squatriglia.

The Palo Alto automaker sent an “alpha build” of the Model S sedan to Detroit, ahead of a promised roll out to the public  sometime next year.

Eventually, the Fremont factory will start working on the “beta builds,” to be used for testing, as in federal crash-testing and certification.

The Model S has been touted as the Tesla vehicle for the rest of us, given that the Roadster retails north of six figures. But for Squatriglia, the sedan is best compared to a BMW 7-Series or the Audi A8. Continue reading »

The Shine of Success in Southern California

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Mike Spagnola and Enrique Hernandez hold one of Street Scene Equipment's popular grills hot off the press in Costa Mesa.

It's easy to take California's culture for granted.  We know we're a fun people, but therein lies another secret to our economic strength in a fast changing world.  Take, for instance, the after market car parts business. Brian Watt of KPCC takes us for a spin in Southern California today on the California Report.

Eating Bitterness in Solitude

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BAODING, CHINA - A silicon chip worker at Tianwei Yingli Green Energy Resources Co. If US companies choose to manufacture in China, should we be surprised that Chinese regulators get to set the terms of engagement? (Credit: Feng Li/Getty Images)

A shout out today to a compelling piece in the New York Times by Keith Bradsher. He explores why many American companies would rather suffer in silence than complain when Chinese authorities steer green tech contracts to homegrown manufacturers, sometimes so aggressively, they run afoul of international trade laws.

“They have shown themselves to be retaliatory, and it really has the intended effect,” said a Western lawyer who advises many multinationals in China, and who insisted on anonymity because he said that he feared retaliation.

It can take up to three years for a World Trade Organization case to run its course. Labor unions may have more to gain - and less to lose - pursuing such complaints through the White House. Companies, on the other hand, have grown dependent on low cost manufacturing in China. That and retail sales in China are climbing at a rate of nearly 15 percent a year.

It's not hard to see how the political calculations come out the way they do. One "senior Western executive" sums it up thusly:  “everybody eating bitterness in solitude.”

Plug In Buses

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No exhaust fumes behind one of these buses. (Credit: BYD)

They're not just for golf courses anymore. Electric delivery trucks, city buses and other heavy-duty vehicles constitute a "huge potential market," according to Reuters.  Now, it  shouldn't come as a complete surprise, as commercial players like UPS and Fed Ex have been experimenting with fossil fuel alternatives for years.

But it is notable that, as the Wall Street Journal reports, BYD is talking with Los Angeles about e-buses. Particularly exciting: the as yet unsubstantiated hope that BYD might set up factories in LA to produce the buses. That's one open question. The other is, does BYD own all the rights to the technology it’s selling? Continue reading »