Michigan Radio's Political Analyst Jack Lessenberry has been thinking about the current situation of the domestic automakers.
We are waiting for the other shoe to drop next week. General Motors and Chrysler have until Tuesday to convince the government they are making progress at restructuring themselves, and moving toward a future that is profitable again.
If they fail to do that, the government can immediately call in the $17.4 billion in loans they've given those automakers.
That would cause both car companies to immediately declare bankruptcy. Of course, the taxpayers would never get that money back, because the automakers have already spent it all.
What Chrysler and GM really want is for the government to decide they have made enough progress to get more money. How much more? At least $20 billion, most of that for GM, once the world's biggest and richest corporation.
What the government will do is anyone's guess. General Motors laid off hundreds of white-collar workers this week. That's a time-honored move for an automaker in trouble.
But everyone knows you can't just cut your way to success. You need a new exciting car, or cars, that everyone wants to buy. When Chrysler was on the rocks thirty years ago, lee Iacocca kept them alive by telling everybody to wait till the new K cars arrived.
Now, people are pinning their hopes on the Chevy Volt, the new electric car scheduled to go into production next year. Last week, I talked to the man who may be most responsible for making electric and hybrid cars happen, the legendary Stanford Ovshinsky.
He was the principal inventor of the nickel-metal-hydride battery that powers your cell phone. He worked for years on an earlier GM attempt to build an electric car, the EV-1, until GM got cold feet.
If you want to know more about that, go rent the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car," in which Stan and his late wife Iris play starring roles. Stan, by the way, recently launched a new company, got remarried, and is working as hard as ever. And why not? He is only 86. I asked him about the Volt. "Well, it is a start," he said. "They will probably sell a few thousand, but... they are fourteen years behind the Japanese." Back in the 1990s, he went to Japan and saw that the hybrids were coming. He tried to tell GM, "and they laughed at us. They said they would never work, or sell."
Ovshinsky hopes the Volt is a success. But, as he noted, the company still hasn't decided on the battery to run it. The car will also cost more than $40,000, out of many people's reach.
The history of technology shows that in time, better electric cars are certain to be developed, and the price will fall.
Yet it is hard to see the Volt bailing out a corporation that is losing millions of dollars every hour. The new technology may do that in time. But the auto companies are running on empty right now. Next week we may find out if Washington will again refuel their tanks -- or decide it's time to stop being taken for a ride.