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CNN IN THE MONEY
Electric Cars and Oil Prices; Americans and Vacation; Fed to Raise Rates Again?
Aired June 25, 2006 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the program. I'm Jack Cafferty. Coming up on today's edition of "In The Money," His highness, Ben Bernanke, Fed chief, looks set to take interest rates even higher. We'll see how to tell when the Fed has gone too far. Some people suggest maybe they already have.
Plus, one thing the French do better than you. It's a short list. It's called taking vacation. American workers aren't very good at it. Find out why we're so hung up on clocking time behind the desk.
Also ahead, sounds like a toy, works like a car. The more precious oil becomes, the better an electric car looks. We'll see if it's an idea that has legs.
Joining me today, a couple of "In The Money" veterans, Jennifer Westhoven Andy Serwer. So you've got to love the Congress. For the fourth time I think in the last five years or something, they vote themselves a pay raise and then almost at the same instant refused to raise the minimum wage in this country, which hasn't been raised for what, almost ten years?
ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": Yes, there was a measure that got 52 votes in the Senate, but it needed 60 because of some procedural poppycock. If the Republicans are smart, I think they would get this going to preempt the Democrats from having it as a campaign issue.
JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's just amazing that they lock it in for themselves, but they can't lock it in for people that are poor. But then there's this other issue, too, which is that this was really brought up by a committee that apparently doesn't even have the power to do it, anyway. So they're making it an issue.
CAFFERTY: But why don't they want to raise the minimum wage? What's the resistance to that idea?
SERWER: Well, it's obviously coming from big business. They say it's inflationary, and it will cause layoffs. I think that's a lot of bull. The thing is, if we've going to have a minimum wage in this country, let's have a minimum wage that keeps up with inflation. Otherwise, scrap it. Get rid of it. I mean, this is craziness. CAFFERTY: They can pay a retiring oil company executive a severance package of $4 million, but they can't raise the minimum wage from -- what is it -- $5.50 to $6? That's unbelievable. All right.
The Federal Reserve playing chicken with inflation. Wall Street's on the sidelines biting its nails. The Dow's been in negative territory for much of the last month; slid back below break even again late last week. And with yet another rate hike expected next week from the Fed, investors could get even more spooked because the Fed has to figure out how far to go without going too far.
To help us try and understand whether they've already passed that imaginary line, we're going to talk now to John Rutledge, who's the chairman of Rutledge Capital.
John, always nice to see you.
JOHN RUTLEDGE, CHAIRMAN, RUTLEDGE CAPITAL: Great to see you, Jack. How are you?
CAFFERTY: I'm good. Bernanke's got to be a little nervous about what he's doing here. He's playing on the edge of the abyss, isn't he?
RUTLEDGE: I think that we've discovered the real terrorist cell, Jack. It's in Washington in the Federal Reserve building. And they're going to meet next Wednesday. So yes, he's nervous. He's nervous because he's not yet been accepted by the capital markets. But I don't think they're doing a very good job.
CAFFERTY: Well, and there's a lightning effect to this stuff. And if he keeps pulling the trigger on rates and it turns out he's gone too far, he might be on the outside looking in again real quick.
RUTLEDGE: Exactly. And that might not be so bad for you and me. You know, the Fed does have the power to kill the economy. They've done it many times before. And they need to get off this rate-rising kick before a bad thing happens.
WESTHOVEN: You know, somebody writes us these pre-interview questions. We try and take a look at them. I looked at one of these and started to just laugh. It said, "Is Bernanke sending the right message?" I'll be darned if I can figure out what message he's sending. What do you make of it?
RUTLEDGE: I don't understand the message, either. I think one message is, Ben has been raising the rates as his version of the little blue pill. "Take me seriously. I'm a manly Fed chairman. I'm going to stop inflation."
The other message is he likes to tell people what he's going to do. But the fact is the only tool they've got to play with is the Fed funds rate, and it really doesn't make very much happen. You remember that game with the hammer where you hit the gopher that pops up out of the hole?
RUTLEDGE: That's really what the Fed funds rate is. Every time the Fed funds rate pops up, there's a guy at the New York Fed who buys a treasury bill and knocks it back down. It's the buying the treasury bill, the open market operation, that matters. And bank reserves have been shrinking for the last year. They're too tight already.
SERWER: John, can you get inside Bernanke's head, though, and tell us what you think he's really looking at? I mean, there's got to be more to it than some of this Whack-a-mole stuff, right?
RUTLEDGE: Andy, that's not one of the top ten places I'd like to be, inside Bernanke's head. I think, though, that he's trying to show that he's serious about long-term inflation. I don't think anyone credible really doubts that.
And what we need to remember is way back when, the word "inflation" was something that a government does. It's like the bicycle pump where you inflate your tire. That's the Fed's job is to make sure they don't print too much money to inflate prices. That's not what's been going on. We've been having oil price push, commodity price push inflation. The Fed does not print oil, as we've talked about here before. And they have no business trying to reverse out an oil price increase.
CAFFERTY: What about, though, the argument -- and we've been hearing it from some of his colleagues on the Fed -- that there are core signs of accelerating inflation in pockets in this economy, and they're concerned about it. They're saying things like the core rate is higher than they want to see it.
RUTLEDGE: I think it is baloney. You know, we have millions of prices. The indexes they use, whether they're CPIs, PPIs, core rates, they're just ways of summarizing all those price numbers. The fact is, we've had a big push up in oil and gas prices and commodity prices because of the growth of China. That is something that is passing through the economy like a snake swallowing an egg. There's no way the Fed can change it.
That is not pushing through into wage growth. Low-wage jobs, as we were talking with the minimum wage, are actually going down in wage. So we don't have an inflation problem here. They are reacting to commodity prices. I think the right monetary policy is to let the commodity prices through and just don't print money long-term. Long- term inflation is the only thing that matters for the bond market and the capital market.
WESTHOVEN: Now, I hear what you were saying about long-term inflation, that this kind of inflation is something that's just attached to commodity prices. But do you think Bernanke hears that? Does he care about that? Because right now, the inflation numbers are already at the top of his comfort range. So it seems like he may want to keep on raising, even if the inflation is from energy.
RUTLEDGE: I think you're right, Jennifer. That's why he keeps hitting us with that hammer. He thinks that his job is to control the consumer price index of the core consumer price index. And he, at the moment, has the gavel. So that's what matters. I think they're definitely going to tighten this next week. They may tighten again in August.
I think it's already gone too far. We're not going to have a recession, but we are going to have a period when we're going to see rates actually fall back again, I bet you, in the second half, when the inflation numbers come back down.
SERWER: John, what about stagflation, where we have inflation and the economy stagnates. You hear about that. And isn't there inflation besides commodity prices? I mean you see education, healthcare prices. Those are going up, too. So couldn't we have an environment where that comes back to bite us?
RUTLEDGE: Well, the inflation that you're talking about is really monopoly inflation, where we have government services, one provider, no productivity growth. We need to do something about that. But that's a productivity growth issue.
And I think beyond that, the inflation numbers are really pretty benign. The inflation numbers that matter are really wage growth over the very long-term. That only happens when you print money systematically at a high rate for a long time.
In the last year, the reserves of the banking system have gone down 1 percent. They haven't gone up at all. Normal policy would be to increase them at the rate of GDP. So the Fed's already being tight. But it is Bernanke's game. He is going to tighten. And fortunately, productivity is growing fast enough I don't think this will push through into a recession because of the growth of the world out there.
WESTHOVEN: Thanks for helping us look at the stock market and what's going on in the inflation and interest rates. Again, thanks a lot. Great to have you on the program.
RUTLEDGE: Great to see you.
WESTHOVEN: When we come back, forget the stick; let's talk about the carrot. Maybe border security wouldn't be such a hassle if we busted the people who hired illegals.
And also ahead, beer money. Budweiser might start hitting the hard stuff. See if the so-called King of Beers is ruling on Wall Street.
And get out of here. Giving up vacation time used to make you look dedicated. Find out why these days, it just makes you look dumb.
WESTHOVEN: As the illegal immigration debate rages on, is anybody cracking down on the employers who hire them? The government's done very little to keep companies in line with the law. Joining us now, Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which you should know is anti-illegal immigration. It wants us to take steps to stop it.
Thanks for coming on the program today.
STEVEN CAMAROTA, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Thank you for having me.
WESTHOVEN: OK. So how is it that Washington can just pretend that these laws don't seem to exist?
CAMAROTA: Well, it's a good question. In 2004 -- the year for which we have the most recent data -- only three employers -- I'll say that again -- only three employers were actually fined for hiring illegal aliens, even though we think several hundred thousand actually do it.
So what we can say is that the Bush administration -- but quite frankly following on the policies of the Clinton administration -- has been committed to a policy of no work site employment, that is, not going after the employers.
Now, the reason that's happened is just basically a political decision. The laws are on the books. There are people whose job it is to actually go after the employers. But successive administrations have made the decision not to enforce the law.
And also - and this is important -- they've made the decision not to implement the tools that would make that easy. They told Social Security, "You can continue to accept bogus Social Security numbers." They told IRS the same thing. They haven't established a database for employers to check against to make sure that, you know, someone's here legally and entitled to work.
And so those decisions not to enforce the law and not to put in place the policies and tools that would make that possible result in, basically, employers are Scott free to employ illegals.
SERWER: Steven, I take issue with that a little bit. I mean, you look back over the past couple years, there have been huge investigations into Wal-Mart, into Tyson Foods, and other big companies. And that serves as a deterrent. In other words, when you go after Wal-Mart, Target's looking at that. When you go after Tyson, the other meat processors are looking at that, too, aren't they?
CAMAROTA: Yes, sure. There have been some spectacular cases involving kind of a widespread conspiracy. But beyond those kind of cases, the overall trend has been dramatically down in enforcement. In 2002 -- I'm sorry, in 1992 -- we were fining about 1,500 employers a year. That had dropped to 400 by 1999 and then by 2004, it dropped down to three.
There are some big spectacular cases where they think senior management is involved. But the more mundane work of going after employers and actually serving as the kind of deterrent that you mentioned, that just hasn't been happening.
CAFFERTY: How do you explain the lack of any sort of political will to address, one, the desires of the taxpayers in this country. The overwhelming majority of us don't want somewhere between 12 and 20 illegal aliens running around the country, stealing identification, filing bogus Social Security claims, vote in our elections, on and on and on and on.
There are laws on the books that have been there a good long while that are simply ignored. The borders are wide open. Nobody goes after employers, whether they're big political contributors or the small mom and pop landscaping business. And these clowns in Washington -- and I use that term affectionately -- sit by and watch all of this going on and busy themselves with some kind of juvenile debate about immigration reform. I mean, it's disgusting it's so transparent.
CAMAROTA: Well, basically, what happens is you're absolutely right. The public is outraged. But that creates a diffused sense of significant political dissatisfaction. But you have people who are narrowly focused and push very hard to make sure the law isn't enforced, namely the business community, construction, hotel and restaurant, meat processing and poultry processing, agribusiness.
And they have a very strong interest in pushing policies that prevent the law from being enforced. And so Congress is aware of the diffuse sense of public dissatisfaction, but the narrowly focused preferences of the business community tend trumps that.
The addition to that is that there are a whole group of ethnic advocacy groups and civil libertarians who see basically any attempt to enforce the law is a kind of infringement, a civil rights issue. And so this left-right alliance prevents the law from ever being implemented.
WESTHOVEN: All right. What do think of the argument that some people that we need all the illegal immigrants to run this economy, and that they're doing jobs that nobody else would do. What would happen if we really suddently started enforcing these laws?
CAMAROTA: Well, let me answer that two ways. First off, even if you want to bring in people legally, you're still going to have to enforce the law. You can't make an argument that we shouldn't enforce the law. And everybody agrees that one key area -- not the only area -- is to go after employers who hire people outside of the law.
Now, on the question of does America need large numbers of unskilled people. The first thing to keep in mind is unskilled people, regardless of legal status, don't pay much in taxes because they're unskilled, they're poor.
But they tend to use a lot in services, especially on behalf of their U.S.-born children. So that's something to consider. So if business really wants a guy, but remember, that may come at a high cost, if you will, there might be a very high cost to cheap labor.
Now, the second question is, is America desperately short of unskilled workers? Well, the problem is the unemployment rate in occupations like construction, like food service and processing, these kind of occupations, unemployment tends to be quite high. In addition, wages have generally declined for natives in those occupations, suggesting there is no labor shortage.
But perhaps worst of all, less educated Americans -- say Americans with no more than a high school degree, they either lack a high school degree, or have only a high school degree -- those individuals have been leaving the labor market in droves, so now the share that are actually holding a job is at an all-time low, suggesting that what we're really seeing is a kind of job displacement going on here. And that's a very troubling social trend.
SERWER: Steven, let me just jump in and ask you a quick last question. You talk about your opposition being an unholy alliance of the left and the right. Who funds your organization, the Center for Immigration Studies?
CAMAROTA: Well, the Center is mostly -- and I'm not involved in fundraising...
SERWER: Yes, but you know who funds your organization, don't you?
CAMAROTA: Mostly, the Center is funded by foundations and individuals, as well as we do contract work. Some of our -- in recent years, some of our largest share of our budget has come from contract work for the federal government, evaluating the immigrant data that they collect.
CAFFERTY: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. Steven Camarota, director of research, Center for Immigration Studies. Thanks for being with us on "In The Money." Appreciate it.
CAMAROTA: Thank you.
CAFFERTY: Time now for this week's "Look Ahead." A couple of key economic reports due out next week. Monday, new home sales data will be released. Tuesday, we get numbers on existing home sales. And then Tuesday, as well, consumer confidence. See what impact inflation fears and raising interest rates are having on American consumers.
Coming up on "In The Money" after the break, as we continue, Budweiser takes off the beer goggles as the company tries out a new product line. Andy, we'll check the stock.
CAFFERTY: Also ahead, no tanks. Electric cars could liberate you from the gas pump. We'll look at why they haven't taken off.
Plus, music to your eyes. Rumor has it Apple could get into the movie business with iTunes. Like iMovies? Allen Wastler talks about why that might not be such a great idea. Stick around.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SERWER: The Clydesdales have a special delivery for you, fruit beer. Anheuser-Busch is trying a couple a new things in hopes of reversing lower beer sales nationwide. That includes marketing a fruit-flavored malt beverage -- yuck -- and testing a hard liquor brand called Jekyll and Hyde (ph).
But will it work? And we're talking about Anheuser-Busch, here. The salient point, I think, is that since 1995, beer as a percentage of total alcohol sales is down 5 percentage points, losing share to wine and liquor. I suppose probably white wine and vodka. And Anheuser-Busch is taking a look at this, right?
WESTHOVEN: Yes. And, I mean, one of the things is interesting is that the beer companies...
SERWER: He's allergic to beer.
WESTHOVEN: Beer companies worked so hard for years to make sure that liquor didn't have distribution. They really set up the laws, wrote laws here, in a way, so that liquor couldn't get a foothold in. And yet, then along came Diageo (ph), and things have really changed now. A lot more people drinking liquor. And then you've got the whole wine thing going on.
CAFFERTY: Well, plus, remember the clampdown on advertising hard liquor? You could still advertise wine, but you couldn't advertise Early Times or Jim Beam or whatever. And yet, the growth of consumption of the hard booze is, as you suggest, going up.
SERWER: We talked about vodka that's also tequila. It's the clear liquors. You know, people are drinking a lot of that cosmos and all those specialty drinks. But Anheuser-Busch, you know, really is an amazing company. It's the last truly American beer company left because Coors has lined up with Molson, and Miller's with SAB. It's truly a juggernaut.
A lot of people thought it was going to get killed with imports and microbrews. It got in that business enough to keep that at bay. It's been flat -- that's not a pun. It's been flat, the stock has been for about five years, basically.
But I really think, you know, this is a kind of stock that over the next ten years, you could do really well with. Because it's a juggernaut. They're smart in St. Louis down there. They know what they're doing. And I think they're going to come back.
If they need to get in the liquor business, they have the distribution muscle to do that. So, you know, it's one of these great American companies. It's a great brand, obviously.
WESTHOVEN: Yes, but the kind of beer that people drink -- they want, they want Pabst, they want Rolling Rock. They want stuff that feels retro or something. I'm not getting that with Anheuser-Busch.
SERWER: You killed our fruit beer idea. That's going to jump on the bandwagon. (CROSSTALK)
SERWER: All right. Coming up on "In The Money," taking a PC for a test drive. We'll tell you about a new sales idea from Dell.
And later, go for the burn. Hoarding your vacation days is out and burning every last one is in. See if American workers are starting to take their fun seriously.
Plus, start your own bond without worrying about the bills for all those trashed hotel rooms. Our fun site of the week is coming up.
ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": The 1984, Michael Dell launched Dell Computer, a venture that eventually made him billions and a number of his stockholders millions. But two decades later, the scene looks a little different. Dell missed its sales forecast twice last year, and the stock is down about 40 percent from last July.
Plus, the company faces increased competition from companies like Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo. The chairman, Michael Dell, is confident his company will rebound.
Dell stock hit a three-year low last month. What did Michael Dell do? He spent more than $70 million of his own money buying almost 3 million shares. The stock rose, and Dell made more than $2 million on paper.
MICHAEL DELL, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, DELL: You don't go from 22 years ago starting in a dorm room to a $56 billion company without, you know, some challenges along the way. But I think I wouldn't trade our position for any company in our industry. I think our company is quite strong. We'll continue to grow.
SERWER: Dell's turnaround strategy includes cutting prices on computers...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, what is your name, sir?
SERWER: ... and spending millions to improve customer service. It also ended an exclusive partnership with Intel, and for the first time will use AMD chips in select servers. Some customers believe AMD delivers a higher quality, more powerful product.
These are not the only changes.
DELL: Our laser printer product line particularly is going to go through a massive expansion over the course of this summer.
SERWER: Dell plans to display such products and other in two giant retail stores opening in Texas and New York this year. Like its roughly 160 smaller kiosks, customers will be able to touch gadgets but cannot physically leave with them. Rather, orders take place online or over the phone.
A Dell spokesman says the larger stores will allow customers to view its entire line of products rather than just a sample. Dell isn't banking on in-store purchases to refuel its growth, but it is possibly banking on international opportunities.
DELL: Ninety-six percent of the people that we want to sell our products to don't live in America. So, you know, we want to sell our products to everyone. We're going to continue to grow. I think the company has enormous opportunities. We're in a $1.4 trillion market. We have the leading position in our industry.
SERWER: With its company on top but fiercely fending off the competition, what advice does Dell offer to those looking to succeed and follow in his footsteps?
DELL: Be willing to experiment and fail. A lot of people go into business and they're looking to never make any mistakes. That's not the way to succeed. You have to be willing to try things, experiment, ask a lot of questions, don't be stuck on any one position. And, you know, most importantly to listen and look for breakthroughs and, you know, ideas that haven't been out there.
SERWER: Despite some of those new ideas, personal computers are still Dell's bread and butter. Desktops and notebook PCs account for 80 percent of its sales.
There's lots more to come here on IN THE MONEY. Up next, are we having fun yet? Find out why American workers are so wary about taking vacation days.
And jolted. See who they have stopped GM's EV1 electric car from tearing up the road. We'll hear from the director of a new documentary.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Need a little time off? Who doesn't? I do. I would take some right now if asked. A lot of us are reluctant to take vacation. One theory is that we're afraid of having somebody else in our chair when we get back from that week at the beach.
But the attitude of Americans is different in many respects than, for example, most of the European countries. In France you say "vacation" and Paris is deserted. Our next guest is here to talk a little about why we are so reluctant to get out of town. Joanne Ciulla is the author of "The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work."
Joanne, nice to see you.
JOANNE CIULLA, AUTHOR, "THE WORKING LIFE": Good to be here. CAFFERTY: What accounts for the difference in attitude toward vacation time between the United States and a lot of the rest of the industrialized world?
CIULLA: Well, a lot of it has to do with our history. The government in the U.S. never mandated vacation time for workers. It's always been up to the employers, so we haven't expected it.
The other thing is Americans are famous for their work ethic which started in the early days of our country when we decided that we were not going to have an elite society and everybody was going to roll up their sleeves and work. So we have a long history of valuing work over leisure and, as a result of this, have never been too comfortable with the idea of a vacation.
SERWER: Joanne, a lot of people say that's led to the great success that our nation has enjoyed. Can we be successful and not work so darn much?
CIULLA: Well, it's interesting to compare the work hours in different countries that are industrialized, along with comparing the productivity figures. If we look at them, we see that, for example, in Korea, they have almost twice as many vacation days as we do, and their productivity figures look a little better than hours. So it's not necessarily the case that more vacation time leads to less productivity.
JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well that's the big picture. What do you say on the individual level to somebody who is just too scared to take their vacation time? Why should they take it? Should they be more confident? I mean, it seems like they're giving up an awful lot.
CIULLA: They certainly are because the assumption that you work all the time makes you a better worker and your employer's going to promote you may not be true. Because often, when you come back from vacation, you've got fresh ideas, new ways of solving problems. You attack your work with new vitality. So in terms of the quality of your work, taking a vacation certainly won't hurt it. The real issue is whether you trust your employer.
CAFFERTY: Yes, that is an issues, isn't it, for some people?
CAFFERTY: Talk about the tether that technology keeps us all in. You want to take a vacation, but can you really get away? Everybody has got laptops and BlackBerrys and pagers and cell phones and yada yada yada. And if the boss wants to reach out and touch you, he can get you just about anyplace, can't he?
CIULLA: Yes, and that's a big problem because if you look at the word "vacation," it comes from word "vacate." When you take a vacation, you're supposed vacate your work life. If you bring the cell phone and you're always on call, you're not able to. You're never able to have that free time to yourself. So taking a vacation with the boss and with the email and with the cell phone is not a good idea if you want to really refresh yourself and come back a better employee.
SERWER: Joanne, you know, I think some of this, when we're talking about the United States versus the other countries, has to do with what success means. We think successful 60 hours a week, but I got $3 million in the bank. In France or Spain, it's working 30 hours, drinking some wine, and taking a nap. That's successful. Does it speak to that a little bit?
CIULLA: It does speak to that. It's also, in America, almost a status symbol. I mean, notice the fact that if somebody wants to curry favor with you, they'll come into your office and say, "I know you're really busy." Now, imagine saying, "No, I'm not busy at all." Well, it would make you look somebody wasn't very important, wouldn't it?
WESTHOVEN: Or someone who is considerate. OK, what about the idea that young people, though, aren't letting companies roll over them on this one, that they really want to take more vacation? Are they going to change the culture about this?
CIULLA: I hope so. I mean, I hope that vacations become the big perk in the workplace. A lot of young people -- certainly the students I teach -- have seen their parents work long hours. Let me just give you one figure that's kind of surprising. In 1991, the top 10 percent of workers worked a half-hour longer than the lower 10 percent of workers in America. That's a striking figure.
So people were working like mad. And I think when I look at young people today, they're wondering, "Well, what for? I mean, why do this when there's so much more to life." So I think they're on to something.
SERWER: All right. Well, I think some of us are thinking about taking a vacation right now, Joanne, after hearing that. We're going to have to leave it at that. Joanne Ciulla is the chair of the Leadership and Ethics Program at the Jefferson School of Leadership Studies at University of Richmond. Thanks for being on the pogram.
CIULLA: Thank you.
SERWER: Imagine never going to the gas station again because you could juice up your car right in your own garage. Sound a little too futuristic? Well, not exactly. The technology for electric cars has been around for years, but you won't find any out on the road. A soon-to-be-released documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car" looks at whether this technology was sabotaged to protect the oil industry.
SERWER: With rising gas prices, concerns over global warming, and political unrest in the Middle East, the demand for alternatives to gasoline-powered cars is growing. Hybrid vehicles that conserve gas and flex-fuel vehicles that run partly on ethanol are already on our highways. And in the next few decades, hydrogen fuel cells or even solar panels could power our cars. But some experts argue that the best alternative fuel option for our future may actually be a thing of the past.
CHRIS PAINE, DIRECTOR, "WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR": One hundred years ago, this thing behind me would have been a big percentage of electric cars there.
SERWER: While electric cars date back to the 1800s, Chris Paine, the director of the upcoming documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car" says recent models can keep up in today's traffic and deserve to be on the open road.
PAINE: They're very cheap to operate. There's no tune-ups, no service, because there's no transmission, no engine. So your only charge, really, is charging the car. And it turns out that's as little as 60 cents of gasoline at equivalent cost.
SERWER: Paine owned an EV1 electric car as part of the project GM launched in the 1990s. "Who Killed the Electric Car" explores why GM stopped production of EV1 vehicles, pulled the cars off California roads, and left them at junk yards. The film investigate a number of, quote, unquote, "suspects" in what Paine calls the murder of the electric car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're up against the automobile industry, the oil industry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's David versus Goliath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who killed the electric car?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lack of corporate wisdom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my opinion, it's big oil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The murder was committed by the General Motors company.
SERWER: The theories point to the federal government, oil companies, and the auto giants and the questionable role they play in American dependence on gasoline and foreign oil. But if you ask GM why the EV1 was removed from the market, well, its answer is pretty simple. There just weren't enough customers.
GM says it spent in excess of $1 billion on this program, which appealed to a very small number of people. "We leased only 800 vehicles in a four-year time frame and there were not enough customers to make this a viable business proposition to move forward with." Some industry experts say electric cars didn't generate the widespread public support necessary for sustained growth for several reasons.
PETER VALDES-DAPENA, CNNMONEY.COM AUTO WRITER: The first reason would probably be simple lack of familiarity. These are going to be more expensive because of their uniqueness, lack of flexibility, and lack of range is probably the biggest reason. The fact that you can't drive this thing, you know, across the state comfortably and feel like you're going to have enough power to get there is probably the biggest reason.
SERWER: The movie's nationwide debut in July is likely revive the debate. In the meantime, environmentalists still want options.
CHELSEA SEXTON, ALTERNATIVE FUEL VEHICLE SPECIALIST: Well, I think that what we have seen is that the best way to get people to use less oil is to give them the opportunity to use none. And the more cars we can make available to accomplish that -- it certainly has a huge impact on global warming, on our national security, on environmentalism as a whole. But people will only make better choices if they have those choices to make.
SERWER: The technology for electric-powered vehicles is available, but it's not at all clear whether there'll be a viable choice for future drivers.
SERWER: The EV1 vehicles only enjoyed the open road for a couple of years. But sources say GM is now producing a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
Coming up next on IN THE MONEY, less than meet the eye. We'll look at why brining big-screen movies to your iPod might not be such a hot idea.
And it's time to hear from you as we read some of your emails from the past week. You can send us an email right now, too. We're at inthemoney@CNN.com.
CAFFERTY: So this idea of selling songs for 99 cents a pop has been hugely successful for Apple. Actually, it's been wildly successful. Big, big bucks. Now Steve jobs and company reportedly want to sell movie downloads for $9.99 a piece, same idea as the songs. But master (ph) Allen Wastler's here, though, and he's not so sure that this is a great idea.
ALLEN WASTLER, CNNMONEY.COM: Yes, all this hoopla this week. We've got reports, you know, iTunes is negotiating with all the major movie studios. But, hey, let's go and download films. Everybody's, "This'll be great. It saved the music industry, it'll help the film industry, too. It'll help those sagging revenues."
However, two problems. One is a technical one, all right? You download a song, a two, three-minute song, it takes you, depending on your connection, anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. But the more and more packets you put in that bad boy, the longer it's going to be.
So you roll up and let's say you're going to download "Lord of the Rings" or something like that. I mean, it's going to take a long time for your computer, and people don't want to wait that long. It's all about immediate gratification. So that's a barrier. Could be erased with developments.
Second one, price, all right? Now, Apple has made a big thing out of price for everything; 99 cents a song. That's the way you're going. The music industry tried to say, "Oh, can't we change it for" -- Apple said, "No, no, no, no, no. And because we're the big kahuna, no."
WESTHOVEN: Well, the music industry wants more, but hasn't it been good for them? Haven't they gotten a lot of money?
WASTLER: The film studios need to look at what happened with music and figure out one price is going to do it. But the film studios are like, "Look, I'm not going to sell my Oscar-winning movie for the same price as my B-rated 'Night of the Zombies' things. I want a little variable pricing, there." And that's the issues. It's going back and forth.
SERWER: So they'll mess themselves up like the music business.
WASTLER: Yes, basically. They're going down that road. But, you know, there's also -- they look at the TV sales and say, "We can be just like TV sales." But the thing is, TV is about immediacy. If you miss an episode of "24," you're not going to wait for the DVD to come out so you can see it. No, you want that bad boy now so you can run to iTunes and download it, and that's where that success is. Movie studios, you don't have that same kind of immediacy problem.
WESTHOVEN: Also, what about burning? Because you're not going to watch a great big movie on your tiny little iPod screen.
WASTLER: Yes, but you can burn with different memories. But a lot of people, they've got to change their drivers.
SERWER: You're getting this, Jack?
CAFFERTY: I am so lost. Tell me about the fun side of the week, Allen. Something I can relate to.
WASTLER: Certainly, Jack. You can build your own rock band on this. You can pick your own lead singer, your own guitarist, your own -- here, let's show his our band we created for Jack. There you go. You go in, you pick your guitarist. Make sure it's a little funky. Then you go in. You need a background, of course. Throw in some other band members, different tunes.
WASTLER: We're trying to figure out a name for this band. We figure it should be Jack Cafferty and the veterans. You know?
CAFFERTY: Jack Cafferty and the old people. It's very good.
All right. We're going to switch from creating your own band to visiting all of the diners in New Jersey, I think. Is that where you're going?
WESTHOVEN: I'm not going there, but somebody is. Early bird specials are a big hit at the diner with the retired crowd. But for this man, it's the diner that's his passion. Valerie Morris explains in this week's "Life After Work."
MARIO MONTI, RETIREE: My name is Mario Monti. I'm 76 years old. I'm a retired teacher and a diner-holic.
VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mario says a diner-holic is somebody who is hooked on the history and location of diners. He and his wife Lucille have been chasing diners for nearly years. Their research led to his book, a directory diners, which lists thousands of eateries around the world.
MONTI: It's like being a Yankee fan or a Dodger fan. Something strikes you about it. And I just love it.
MORRIS: He has visited, eaten in, or photographed a whopping 866 diners. Their lure, he says, is that they put you at ease.
MONTI: They people in there are always friendly. They're always willing to smile at you, and your coffee cup is always full.
MORRIS: So what does a diner-holic like Mario actually order?
MONTI: In the past, it was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots with blueberry pie and tea. Nowadays, it's more like grilled cheese.
MORRIS: He's also working on a book called "Diners of New York." But despite the enthusiasm for his subject matter, Mario insists he has no plans to open his own.
MONTI: Absolutely not. These hairs would be all gone.
MORRIS: Valerie Morris, CNN, New York.
WESTHOVEN: On our next "Life After Work," we'll introduce you to 60-year-old Franny Martin (ph). She retired from marketing and public relations. Now, she's living a dream. She makes hundreds of cookies a day and ships them all around the world. Her story next weekend. We'll be right back with more IN THE MONEY.
CAFFERTY: All right. It's time now to read the answers to our question of the week about whether time or money is the biggest obstacle to eating healthy.
Speaking for bachelors everywhere, we got this from Troy in Mississippi: "I'm not married, and I can't cook, so I usually have to eat out. But the restaurants that serve healthy food are expensive. So I either buy TV dinners or I hit the drive-thru."
Edgar wrote, "There really isn't any cheap food anymore. But the real problem is finding the time to eat well. That's because no matter what you eat, you still have to eat slowly and in a relaxed manner and chew your food well in order to get the most out of it. When was the last time you spent an entire hour at the dinner table?"
John in California wrote, "It's not time or money, it's the way my stomach grumbles when I see those pizza commercials on TV. If they ever make a TV that brings the smell of pizza into my living room during the commercial, I'd weigh 500 pounds."
Here's next week's email question of the week. What would be the best way to punish corporations that hire illegal aliens? Send your thoughts on that to inthemoney@CNN.com, or you should also visit our showpage at CNN.com/inthemoney, which is where you'll find the address of our fun site of the week, create your own rock band.
That's it. Thank you for joining us for this week's edition of IN THE MONEY. My thanks to Headline News correspondent Jennifer Westhoven, "Fortune" magazine editor-at-large Andy Serwer, and Money.com managing editor Allen Wastler. Hope to see you back here next week, Saturdays at 1:00, Sundays at 3:00 Eastern. Until the next time, enjoy the rest of your weekend.
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