Pierce College automotive instructors may soon receive training on how to work on General Motors’ alternative fuel vehicles. The Business Journal has learned that GM began the first of a series of talks with Pierce College, East L.A. College and L.A. Trade Tech on Feb. 1 about offering training on such vehicles. A Los Angeles Community College District official confirmed that the talks have occurred but refused to elaborate on their ultimate goal because the discussions are only in the preliminary stages. The official also refused to disclose whether GM or LACCD initiated the talks. In late October, area auto techs and instructors from Pierce College and others expressed concern to the Business Journal about the lack of training available locally in the field. They particularly stressed that more training was needed on hybrid cars and alternative fuels such as clean diesel, methane and propane. “The industry has all of this new technology to deal with,” Dennis Washburn, executive director of the Pierce College Foundation, told the Business Journal last fall. Washburn said then that he had applied for funding that would allow the college to offer more advanced training to aspiring auto techs. Valley dealers have raised more than $300,000 towards such training, but Washburn said, “There’s not enough money in the state community college system to underwrite a new program such as the one we proposed.” A partnership with GM may give Pierce the opportunity to provide advanced automotive training to students sans state funds. As of late, General Motors has taken a marked interest in alternative fuels. In January, the automaker announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit that it was buying a stake in ethanol made from waste. This unprecedented move would result in a significant decline of carbon emissions per mile, making it less difficult for GM to meet California’s proposed greenhouse limits, should they become law. As GM makes its foray into alternative fuels, however, the company’s financial troubles continue. On Feb. 12, the automaker announced that it lost $38.7 billion in 2007 $722 million in the fourth quarter alone due to plummeting car sales and investments in the struggling sub-prime mortgage industry. In light of its financial woes, the auto manufacturer has slashed about 40,000 United States jobs in the last two years. It is now offering the estimated 74,000 hourly employees who remain buyout packages of $62,500 if they take an early retirement or $140,000 if they forfeit future health benefits and pensions. The terms of an agreement brokered between GM and the United Auto Workers last year stipulate that the automaker can hire up to 16,000 new workers for $16 an hour or less, half the wage that union members make at present. Under the new agreement, G.M. stands to save up to $5 annually beginning in 2010.