Thursday, 14 August 2008

Commonwealth Pool takes the plunge into solar power

Published Date: 13 August 2008

SOLAR panels are to be installed on the roof of the Royal Commonwealth Pool to heat the water for its showers.
The flat black panels will cover an area bigger than a championship tennis court and cut the pool's water-heating bills by a third.The work is set to be carried out as the pool undergoes a £37 million refurbishment starting next June.The panels will pay for themselves within ten years by cutting the pool's energy bill.The solar power will provide enough hot water for showers and sinks but not enough to keep the pools warm. It will potentially save around 64 tonnes of C02 from entering the atmosphere every year.City sports leader councillor Deidre Brock said: "We want to develop the facility into a top- quality water sports hub for the city while reducing the carbon footprint of the building."Stuart Hay, energy futures manager at Changeworks, the Edinburgh-based sustainable development organisation, added: "Swimming pools are big energy-users so solar heating is definitely the way forward, especially with rising fuel prices and the need to cut carbon emissions."This move is to be commended – it's exactly the type of green energy project we need to see more of in the city."The pool's revamp will bring it up to the required standard for hosting the diving competition in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.The work is expected to see the flume tower at the back of the pool demolished. The flumes were removed in 2002.The major overhaul includes the introduction of "moving floors" in all the pools to adjust the depth. The main 50-metre swimming pool is due to be extended by 1.5 metres and will have a special boom so that it can be split into two 25-metre pools – allowing various different activities to take place at the same time. The overhauled diving area will have four platforms up to ten metres high, plus two temporary springboards, and a "dry dive" training area for competitors, with trampolines and harnesses to let them practise twists and turns. The project also includes a changing "village" with better family facilities, a brand new dry play area for children, pool-side showers, heated benches also next to the pools, and a revamped cafe.Work is scheduled to start in June next year, with the building expected to be closed for around two years.•

Thin-film solar cells intrigue investors

By Nichola Groom Reuters
Published: August 14, 2008

LOS ANGELES: Thin-film solar panel makers are poised to capture a big share of the U.S. power market as utilities seek renewable energy at the lowest possible cost, but doubts are being raised about whether that is enough to support the sky-high valuation of one of the largest such companies, First Solar.
The biggest maker of thin-film products, First Solar has been a Wall Street darling since it went public in 2006, because its cadmium telluride solar cells are far less costly to produce per watt than the silicon-based cells that dominate the market.
Electricity produced from the sun is pricier than that from dirty sources like coal-fired plants, so cost is paramount when choosing among solar suppliers. For that reason, thin-film suppliers are expected to pick up big contracts in states like California, which is requiring that 20 percent of the state's electricity come from green sources by 2010.
"Thin film is really the leading edge for satisfying demand from the utility market," said Ted Sullivan, senior analyst at the market research firm Lux Research. "Utilities are sophisticated buyers. All they care about is the lowest cost."
Thin film's cost advantage over cells made from silicon, along with clean-energy requirements from a growing number of states, have underpinned investor enthusiasm for First Solar.

At the same time, thin-film panels produce less energy than traditional photovoltaic technology. That makes them better for big installations in the desert, where there is ample space, and less attractive in small areas like residential rooftops.
"The whole market can see a lot of really impressive growth in the long run, but that's not to say thin film will displace everything else," said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst for the Raymond James brokerage, who has a "market perform" rating on First Solar. "It's a low-cost product, but it's lower performance."
First Solar shares were 1.6 percent higher on Tuesday at $252. They have been largely immune to a sharp sell-off in solar stocks, down just 6 percent this year. That compares with declines of more than 40 percent for the leading silicon-based cell makers SunPower and Q-Cells.
First Solar trades at about 36 times analysts' average 2009 earnings estimate, compared with multiples of 21 and 19 for SunPower and Q-Cells, respectively.
"There are high hopes of them launching a business model with electric utilities," said Karina Funk, senior equity analyst with Winslow Green Mutual Funds of Boston, which owns First Solar shares.
Whether those high hopes will translate into the hefty returns many investors expect is a major question.
Last month, First Solar announced two contracts with the California utilities Sempra Energy and Southern California Edison, and Funk said that some investors had been hoping for further news on the company's utility business strategy during its earnings conference call last month.
First Solar's high quarterly earnings on July 30 prompted many analysts to upgrade the already richly valued stock to "buy" and assign 12-month price targets of between $350 and $450. At the time, the stock traded at $285.
Mehdi Hosseini, an analyst at the Friedman Billings Ramsey brokerage who has an "underperform" rating on First Solar, warned that it was still too soon to evaluate opportunities in the U.S. utility market.
"The utility market is a market that could be the gold mine for the solar industry, but we don't know how the subsidies are going to play out," Hosseini said. "There are a number of key questions that nobody has an answer for."
The biggest question, Hosseini said, is whether key U.S. solar energy subsidies that expire at the end of this year will be extended, and if so, for how long. Also, in their current form, the utilities are not able to take advantage of the tax breaks. Instead, they must work with third parties who build the solar power plants and sell them the power.
"If the subsidy is given to utilities, then all they need is First Solar to come in and sell modules or systems," Hosseini said. "In that process, utilities could potentially put more pressure on First Solar to lower prices."
In addition, investors are mindful that dozens of companies, from established solar players to venture-backed start-ups, are hard at work trying to replicate First Solar's success.
Applied Materials is selling thin-film production lines for customers including Suntech Power Holdings, while big names like Sharp and General Electric are also cultivating thin-film businesses.
Energy Conversion Devices is the only other large public thin-film company, and its technology, based on amorphous silicon, is different from First Solar's.
"It does have a scarcity premium in the valuation," Molchanov said of First Solar.

Scots offered free use of bikes in green transport scheme

Published Date: 14 August 2008

PARIS-STYLE self-service cycle hire points are to be launched in Dundee and Dumfries as part of a new Scottish Government green transport drive.
The networks of pick-up, drop-off stands will offer free cycle use for the first half hour.Dundee City Council, which has been awarded funding for one of the schemes, said the move followed successful projects in Paris, London, Barcelona and Stockholm. Users are able to pick up a bike at one "interchange" and drop it off at another.Other projects sharing the £15 million combined government and local authority funding include drivers in Dundee being offered one month's free bus travel to encourage them to switch from their cars.Stewart Stevenson, the transport minister, said: "The proposals from Dundee have been impressive, in particular the plans to create a bike rental scheme which will allow people to pick up a bike at a rail or bus station, use it for free for half an hour, and then pay a rental fee at an hourly rate."This initiative could also be used as a template for other local authorities to follow, showcasing the very best examples of sustainable travel initiatives from across Scotland, resulting in a catalyst for change throughout the country. "We need to look at ways of persuading people out of their cars and on to more sustainable forms of travel such as trains, buses, walking and cycling."Other projects to be funded are in Glasgow's east end, Barrhead, Kirkwall, Kirkintilloch and Lenzie, and Larbert and Stenhousemuir.They include no-car zones, improved walking and cycling routes, and "park and choose" sites where drivers can switch to public transport or car-sharing.However, a cycling scheme in Edinburgh was among unsuccessful applications.The awards follow the success of projects in three English "sustainable travel demonstration" towns – Darlington, Peterborough and Worcester – in increasing public transport use, cycling and walking.

China Will Increase Tax On High-Emission Vehicles

By PATRICIA JIAYI HO and TERENCE POONAugust 14, 2008; Page A10

BEIJING -- China will raise the consumption tax on high-emission vehicles and cut the levy on low-emission vehicles as part of efforts to conserve energy and fight pollution, the Ministry of Finance said.
Analysts don't expect the tax changes to have much of an impact on auto sales or emissions in the near term, as the vast majority of vehicles sold in China have small engines.
From Sept. 1, the consumption-tax rate on vehicles with engine sizes between three and four liters will rise to 25% from 15%, while the tax on vehicles with engines bigger than four liters will double, to 40%. The consumption-tax rate on vehicles with engine sizes of one liter or lower will fall to 1% from 3%, the ministry said on its Web site.
CSM Worldwide analyst Yale Zhang said only about 50,000 locally made cars sold annually have engines with a size above three liters, amounting to less than 1% of the six million vehicles he expects to be sold in China this year. Only one locally made vehicle, Toyota Motor Corp.'s Land Cruiser sport-utility vehicle, has an engine bigger than four liters, he said.
The tax likely will have more of an impact on imported vehicles, such as Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW AG's 7 Series and Audi AG's Q7.
Imported vehicles cost between about 700,000 yuan and 1.5 million yuan, or roughly $100,000 to $220,000, Mr. Zhang said.
But even then demand may not be dented much by the higher tax rates, said Charles Huang, director of China research at BNP Paribas. "People who buy these cars are rich people and government officials. They aren't as price-sensitive," he said.
The consumption-tax cut on low-emission vehicles also isn't likely to boost sales of cars with a one-liter or smaller engine, as such cars typically cost between 30,000 yuan and 40,000 yuan, Mr. Zhang said. The new tax rates will amount to savings of between 600 yuan and 800 yuan.
Write to Terence Poon at

WWF advert attacks Shell's claims

Mark Sweney,
Wednesday August 13 2008 07:06 BST

WWF UK has launched an ad campaign attacking Shell's environmental claims after winning a battle to get a press ad by the fuel giant banned as "greenwash".
WWF's ad campaign will launch on giant digital screens at Waterloo station in London today trumpeting its victory by stating that "Shell can't hide the environmental impact of their oil sand projects".
The 20-second WWF ad accuses Shell of "greenwash" over a press ad in the Financial Times earlier this year suggesting the company's Canadian oil sand extraction operation was sustainable.
In the Waterloo ad, WWF, which interspersed the copy with images of stripped mining landscape in Canada, claims that the Shell operation releases three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production. The Waterloo ad was created by the agency Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw.
WWF lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority about a national press ad that Shell launched in the FT in February.
The ad opens with the headline "We invest today's profits in tomorrow's solutions".
In the ad, Shell talks of the need to invest in technology to "continue to secure a profitable and sustainable future".
Shell also said that in the race to find more energy to fuel global demand there was a need to "find new ways of managing carbon emissions to limit climate change".
The FT ad gave examples included Shell building the biggest refinery in the US, "exploring a new generation of bio fuels", and unlocking "the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposit".
WWF complained to the ASA that Shell's Canadian oil sand operation and building the biggest US refinery - actually an expanded redevelopment of an existing facility at Port Arthur in Texas - does not help provide a sustainable future or sustainable energy production.
Shell argued that to meet vast energy requirements it had to look beyond conventional sources of oil and gas, "but also the development of vast resources of unconventional oil and gas, such as oil sands".
The ASA said that the use of the word "sustainable" throughout the ad was defined as "primarily in environmental terms".
Because Shell had not provided evidence that it was "effectively" managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects "in order to limit climate change", the ASA deemed that the ad was misleading.
The ASA came to the same conclusion about Shell's claims about the redevelopment of the Port Arthur oil refinery and said it should not be shown again in its current form.

Areva safety claim triggers reaction

By Peggy Hollinger and Robert Anderson
Published: August 13 2008 20:48

The long-simmering tensions between Areva and Bouygues erupted in a row over new problems with the French nuclear group’s reactor project in Finland, the flagship for French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign to make his country the world’s leading nuclear technology provider.
The Finnish nuclear safety authority, STUK, has this week launched an inquiry into welding work on non-load bearing parts of the reactor – which is already running two years late and at least €1bn ($1.5bn) over budget – after a Greenpeace report raised questions over quality control.

It is also investigating claims on Finnish television this week that construction workers were barred from talking about safety. “That is the worst thing we heard. That is something we will go into in great detail. That is clearly not the way things should be done,” said Petteri Tiippana, STUK assistant director.
Areva, which is leading the construction consortium for Europe’s first new generation EPR reactor, on Wednesday denied Greenpeace’s claims and said it was “stunned” by earlier comments from the Finnish authority over the welding issues, which presented no threat to safety. These had been dealt with last winter, the group said, and involved co-ordination of work on the less sensitive non-structural parts of the reactor rather than quality.
“Last winter, the consortium took note of remarks made by STUK about the welding,” Areva said. “The subject was raised with the subcontractor concerned, Bouygues. The necessary measures were taken to conform to the Finnish safety authority’s demands.”
But Bouygues on Wednesday denied it had anything to do with the welding works and demanded an immediate retraction from Areva, which continued to insist that the construction group had been designated to oversee this part of the work.
The row reveals the deep-seated enmity between the two companies, with Areva fiercely resisting Bouygues’ attempts to promote a merger with Alstom, the construction group’s turbine affiliate. The tensions could further jeopardise a project which is crucial both to Areva’s ambitions and Bouygues’ own reputation.
Moreover they come as a series of setbacks within France has fuelled concern over the nuclear industry. Earlier this summer French safety authorities ordered EDF, the electricity utility, to halt temporarily construction on its new EPR reactor after it raised concerns about the organisation of work also under Bouygues’ responsibility.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Hybrid race heats up for carmakers

By Bernard Simon in Traverse City, Michigan
Published: August 13 2008 19:00

The battle between Toyota and Honda for supremacy in the hybrid petrol-electric car market is set to heat up with both Japanese carmakers set to introduce distinctive new models early next year.
Honda disclosed details on Wednesday of a hybrid hatchback that will be smaller and cheaper than its existing Civic hybrid sedan.

Toyota is due to unveil a larger version of its popular Prius. It has so far kept a low profile on the new model to avoid damping sales of the existing Prius.
The Detroit carmakers are also stepping up their hybrid offerings. Ford is preparing to launch hybrid versions of its mid-sized Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans next year.
Dick Colliver, executive vice-president of Honda’s US unit, on Wednesday said: “The challenge, especially with small cars, is to bring the price down to where more people can afford it. And this is our goal for this new hybrid model . . . to make it affordable to a new generation of car buyers.”
Mr Colliver said that Honda aimed to sell 100,000 of the new cars a year in North America, including Canada.
Sales of the Civic hybrid in the US reached only one-third of that level last year, although demand last month was 38 per cent higher than July 2007.
Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at Global Insight, said: “One of the reasons Prius is so successful is that you can’t mistake it for anything else.
“If the Honda vehicle is only hybrid, they’re going to get the same bragging rights that Prius has now.”
Toyota sold 181,200 Priuses in the US last year and another 106,000 in January-July 2008. It is gradually winding down production ahead of the new model.
Toyota announced plans last month to convert an assembly plant under construction in Mississippi from slow-selling sport-utility vehicles to the Prius. Production is due to start in late 2010.
Ford said on Wednesday that it was setting up a 40-person team to equip its vehicles with new entertainment and other consumer electronics systems, in partnership with prominent technology suppliers.
The new group is part of a drive by Ford to improve the attractiveness as well as the profitability of small and mid-sized cars.
“These people will work at a clock speed that neither Ford nor the industry has seen before,” said Mark Fields, head of Ford’s North American operations.
Mr Fields said that Ford’s drive to integrate its global operations would also help boost the profitability of small vehicles in North America.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Honda's New Hybrid to Cost Less Than Civic Hybrid

Associated PressAugust 13, 2008 12:39 p.m.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- A top Honda Motor Co. executive said Wednesday the company's gas-electric hybrid that will compete directly with Toyota's Prius will be priced lower than the current Civic hybrid.
Richard Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., told an industry seminar in Traverse City that the new five-door, five-passenger hybrid will be launched next spring.
"We're targeting sales of 100,000 units of this new vehicle in North America," he said in a speech at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars.
The Civic hybrid starts at $22,600, while the Prius has a base price of $21,500.
Mr. Colliver said Honda wants to make the hybrid affordable to a new generation of buyers.
Honda, which already has the most fuel-efficient lineup in the U.S., announced in May that it will sell the new hybrid-only Prius competitor in the U.S., Japan and Europe starting in early 2009. It also announced that it will build a new hybrid version of its Fit subcompact.
Toyota sold more than 181,000 Priuses last year, and so far this year it has sold more than 106,000. The Prius gets an estimated 45 miles per gallon on the highway and 48 in the city.
Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

GM engineer says rechargeable car is on schedule

The Associated Press
Published: August 14, 2008

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan: Early versions of the Chevrolet Volt's battery packs are powerful enough to run the high-stakes rechargeable car, but dozens of issues remain before General Motors Corp. can start selling the revolutionary vehicle in 2010 as planned.
The Volt's chief engineer is on a tight schedule to figure out how the car will handle the batteries' weight, dissipate their heat and mechanically transfer their power to the wheels. That's not to mention the list of issues that have nothing to do with the fact that the car plugs in to the wall for recharging.
But the 47-year-old veteran GM engineer, who was recruited from a GM post in Germany to run the high-profile project, is driven by knowing the entire company's future could rest with it.
"At this point, there's nothing standing in our way of continuing to do what we said we're going to do," Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Work on the Volt, introduced as a concept car at the 2007 Detroit auto show, has taken on a more urgent pace with gasoline hovering near $4 per gallon and the U.S. auto market dramatically shifting from trucks to cars.

The car is designed to run on an electric motor powered by a battery pack. Drivers will recharge the vehicle from a standard home wall outlet.
The Volt will be able to travel 40 miles (64 kilometers) on a full charge, and a small gasoline engine will recharge the batteries to keep it rolling on longer trips. GM says the vehicle will get the equivalent of 150 miles (240 kilometers) per gallon.
But for now, as a new commercial airing during the Olympics touts the Volt as the pinnacle of GM's fuel economy improvements and hybrid lineup, Farah and hundreds of other engineers are working to deal with the inevitable glitches from new technology.
They must figure out how to keep the battery cool and adjust the car's suspension so it performs well while carrying a 400-pound (180-kilogram) battery pack.
"All those things result in lots of other mechanical parts and bits and pieces that have nothing to do with electrical energy," Farah said. "So we've had some issues there."
Simultaneously, other GM workers are testing batteries to make sure they last at least 10 years or 150,000 miles (240,000 kilometers). It would cost more than $10,000 to replace them.
Other workers are making the Volt more functional, giving it the room and feel of a regular car "such that the vehicle is not just a battery on wheels," Farah said.
The early concept, a low-riding, sleek silver hatchback, was uncomfortable to sit in and not very functional, Farah said. The new five-door hatchback version more resembles a normal car, a little larger than a Honda Civic.
"It'll have a similar set of visual cues and some of the features that were on the concept car," Farah said.
Late last year, it looked like the Volt's schedule would be derailed by battery delays. Two competing battery makers — Compact Power Inc. of Troy, Michigan, which is working with parent LG Chem of Korea, and Frankfurt, Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems, which is working with GM and A123 Systems Inc. of Watertown, Massachusetts — fell 10 weeks behind on delivering the power packs.
GM engineers used the time to work on the mechanical connections. Batteries arrived in January at GM's sprawling Warren, Michigan, technical center, and the team has nearly erased the 10-week deficit, Farah said.
The Volt also is going through the same design issues as a new car powered by a conventional engine, Farah said.
"The program has all of those same things built in. We're just doing them faster because we have to," he said.
Although GM has promised to begin selling the Volt in a little more than two years, experts wonder if it will be ready in time, whether enough batteries will be available to sell the cars in significant numbers, and whether the cost can be reduced to make the car affordable to the masses.
GM has said the Volt will cost $30,000 to $40,000, and that it expects to sell 100,000 per year starting in 2012.
While ambitious, that's still 81,000 fewer than the number of Prius gas-electric hybrids sold by Toyota last year.
Brett Smith, assistant director for manufacturing and technology at the Center for Automotive Research, said even in small volumes, the Volt is a game-changer.
"It's an entirely different technology. It's an entirely different powertrain layout. It's a huge step forward," he said Tuesday at an industry conference in Traverse City.
Smith wonders, however, whether early buyers will wind up being part of an extended test.
"This and the other vehicles that are coming out in plug-in form are, for all intents and purposes because of some timing, they are in a lot of ways prototype vehicles being put on the market to test," he said.
Much of GM's push on the Volt is designed to recapture the technology leadership image from Toyota, which has led the way in alternative powertrains with its Prius gasoline-electric hybrid car, Smith said.
"There's no doubt that General Motors realized the importance of positive media coverage with the Prius," he said.
Toyota also is pushing to get its plug-in electric vehicle to market in 2010, while Ford Motor Co., which is testing 20 on roads in California, says it is five years away from producing them in significant numbers.
Smith said despite uncertainties, GM has given every indication that the technology will be ready.
But between now and then, it's Farah's job to eliminate the uncertainties, banking on experience from work on GM's EV-1 electric car in the 1980s.
Farah, who started with GM in 1984, at first was reluctant to leave his German engineering assignment to lead the Volt's development. He thought it would just be an experiment with a life span like the EV-1, which GM took off the market a few years after its debut. But Farah relented after finding out how important the Volt is to GM's future.
He knew there would be early mornings and late nights away from his family, but said he gets great satisfaction from working on a car that has the potential to end America's dependence on oil and the environmental and political problems that come with it.
High gas prices already have forced a major lifestyle changes in the U.S., with people taking fewer vacations or weekend trips. Americans drove 53.2 billion fewer miles (85 billion fewer kilometers) as gas prices climbed from November through June than they did over the same eight-month period a year earlier, the Federal Highway Administration said Wednesday.
The Volt, Farah said, can keep people mobile with only the adjustment of having to plug in a car at night.
"It's an opportunity to change the way we consume energy without significantly changing our lifestyle," he said.

GM to Build Diesel Engines in Thailand


BANGKOK -- General Motors Corp. said it will invest $445 million to build a diesel-engine plant in Thailand and upgrade an existing assembly facility, reflecting the company's increased dependence on a growing Asian market to help offset its problems in the U.S.
The plant, which will produce engines for small pickup trucks, is slated to begin production in 2010 and will have an annual capacity of more than 100,000 units, GM said. The facility will be GM's first diesel-engine plant in Southeast Asia and will produce four-cylinder engines for use by Chevrolet in Thailand and other global markets, the company said.
GM's chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner, said in a news conference at the site that "General Motors is intent on becoming an industry leader here in Thailand and across Asean," referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a market that includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries, as well as Thailand.
Thailand's eastern seaboard -- the country's most heavily industrialized region -- is an important part of the global supply chain for several major auto manufacturers. Last year, Ford Motor Co. and partner Mazda Motor Corp. announced a $500 million investment in a compact-car plant in the same area earmarked for GM's new plant. Ford also operates a pickup-truck plant there, which exports to more than 130 countries.
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest car maker, treats Thailand as a major export hub and is using it as a base to develop more fuel-efficient cars.
GM's expansion in Thailand contrasts with the difficulties it faces in the U.S. Soaring gasoline prices and a slowing economy there have curbed car sales at a time when Detroit's Big Three -- Ford, GM and Chrysler LLC -- are struggling to remain competitive with Asian rivals including Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. In the second quarter, GM recorded a loss of $15.5 billion -- the third-largest quarterly loss in the company's history. The company plans to close four North American truck plants and step up production at plants that build smaller cars, which are growing in popularity because of their better fuel efficiency.
In China and other parts of Asia, meanwhile, GM is hoping to increase production. In the first half of the year, the company saw its sales in the Asian-Pacific region increase 9.9% compared with the same period in 2007 to 798,000 vehicles.
The company's Asian-Pacific president, Nick Reilly, said Wednesday that GM expects to sell 1.2 million vehicles in China this year -- up from one million in 2007 -- and 220,000 vehicles in India.
The new Thai engine plant initially will employ 340 workers and is located next to GM's vehicle-assembly plant in Rayong province, which opened in 2000 and employs about 2,900 workers. The assembly plant can produce 130,000 vehicles a year, making a range of GM products, including the Aveo compact, Optra midsize sedan, Optra Estate wagon, and the Captiva sport-utility vehicle.
The assembly plant is being upgraded to produce a new, small-model pickup truck, known as the Chevrolet Colorado.
Separately, Moody's Investors Service cuts its credit ratings on GM into highly speculative territory, citing the challenges the auto maker will face in "re-establishing a competitive position in the U.S. automotive market and generating positive operating cash flow" amid industry sales that are at a 15-year low.
GM's shares were down 84 cents, or 7.6%, at $10.26 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
--Mike Barris contributed to this article.

Remedial work cuts into British Energy earnings

·Nuclear generator says bid talks are continuing ·Shares rise on better than expected figures
Mark Milner, industrial editor
The Guardian,
Thursday August 14 2008

British Energy yesterday insisted it had the credentials to play a pivotal role in the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain and said it remained in advanced discussions with a potential bidder.
The latest signal of the company's determination to remain central to Britain's nuclear generating capability came as it reported a slump in profits from its existing fleet. The company said its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell from £253m to £129m in the three months to June 29, the first quarter of its financial year. It blamed lower output and the higher cost of remedial work at two nuclear stations for the near 50% decline.
British Energy said the role for nuclear new-build within Britain's energy policy was now firmly established.
Bill Coley, chief executive, said: "As we continue discussions in respect of a potential transaction, we remain clear that the expertise of our people, together with our sites, makes British Energy uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in nuclear new-build."
British Energy has been at the centre of bid speculation since the government gave its blessing to nuclear new-build because areas next to its sites are likely to be the most suitable locations.
A number of European utilities have looked at a possible bid, with Electricité de France emerging as the frontrunner, though British Energy has never confirmed the identity of its leading suitor.
Two weeks ago British Energy and EDF came within a whisker of agreeing the terms for a £12bn bid. The move had the backing of the government, which has a 36% stake in British Energy, but was blocked by two leading shareholders who argued that 765p a share, the level of the proposed deal, was not enough.
EDF has said it remains committed to nuclear new build in Britain, but it remains unclear how the current impasse between the two companies can be broken. Some observers argue EDF will have to up its offer to more than £8 a share but others believe 765p was already stretching the French group's valuation.
Yesterday's better than expected figures saw British Energy shares rise 1.5p to 706.5p. Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, has indicated it could be interested in a possible merger with British Energy, but only if no one else makes an offer. It has already held talks with EDF about taking a 25% stake in British Energy if the state-owned French company were to make a successful bid for the UK company.
British Energy has eight nuclear power stations and one coal-fired plant. Problems at a number of the nuclear plants have forced it to cut output, though yesterday it said it was making "good progress" towards resolving the issues which have dogged the plants.
The company said output from its nuclear plant had been lower than in the same three months of last year, mainly as a result of boiler unit outages at its Hartlepool and Heysham plants. It said 1.2 million man hours had been spent tackling the issue while the cost this year is expected to be £115m.
British Energy said it had produced 9.5 terawatt hours from its nuclear stations against 13 terawatt hours in the comparable period last year. However the reduced nuclear output was partially offset by higher generation from the coal-fired Eggborough station and higher electricity prices.
The company is hoping that the two plants will be back on line in the third quarter of the financial year. It said reactor 3 at Hinckley Point B had been brought back into service after being shut down for a planned inspection while reactor 4 at Hunterston B was being restarted.
"We have continued to make good progress towards resolving the plant issues that have significantly impacted our performance in the year to date," Coley said.