Greener Cars Recharge Building Plans

A stop-gap funding measure passed by the Senate last Saturday may have significant implications for a mainstay of the United States industrial sector. A $630 billion federal funding bill would provide the Big Three automakers with $25 billion worth of low-cost loans for developing clean technology and re-tooling manufacturing plants. It may be too early to say when–or if–Detroit can catch up to foreign automakers in the race to build low-emission vehicles. But the federal funding could help increase demand for both new projects and re-purposing of existing manufacturing facilities. That, in turn, could increase the demand for site-selection consulting and other industrial advisory services. Coincidentally, the federal loan package won approval just two days after General Motors Corp. announced plans on Sept. 25 for a $370 million engine manufacturing plant. After apparently considering multiple locations, the company settled on Flint, Mich., which has been famously hard hit by the decline of the Big Three automakers. GM’s new plant points toward the future of U.S. car manufacturing in several ways. The company will build two types of four-cylinder engines at the 552,000-square-foot facility: a turbo-charged model for the Chevrolet Cruze and an engine for the Chevy Volt, a new electric-powered vehicle. By 2011, GM expects to double global production of its four-cylinder engines and plans to generate more than half of that increased production in the United States. The plant will also seek LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Among other environmentally friendly measures, the plant will recycle or reuse all manufacturing waste rather than sending it to a landfill.  About 460 miles from Flint, in Franklin, Ky., construction started this month on another new-breed auto plant. A joint venture of Integrity Manufacturing and ZAP broke ground on a 1 million-square-foot, $100 million plant on a 200-acre site at Wilkey North Industrial Park. Production of the ZAP Alias, a new model of electric car, is scheduled to start by September 2009. The project’s location marks a strategic departure for ZAP, a 14-year-old company whose name is an acronym for “Zero Air Pollution.” Up to now, the company has done most of its manufacturing in China to take advantage of low-cost labor. But at the groundbreaking ceremony, ZAP CEO Steve Schneider cited state and local incentives that are helping the project pencil out. Those carrots include $76 million in construction bonds that the city of Franklin plans to float and $48 million worth of proposed state job-creation incentives.