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DOE to resume making loans for advanced vehicles

The $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program, which funded both winners (Tesla, Ford, Nissan) and losers (Fisker) before election-year criticism from the back seat caused it to slam on the brakes, will get back on the road soon, said DOE spokeswoman Aoife McCarthy.

The program, which was created in 2008 by President George W. Bush’s administration, still has about 60 percent of its funding remaining, and has made no loans since 2011.

“With no sunset date and more than $15 billion in remaining authority, the program plans to conduct an active outreach campaign to educate industry associations and potential applicants about the substantial remaining funds available and the application process in general,” said McCarthy.

Republican leaders, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney, roundly criticized ATVM, and Congress held a hearing in April to investigate the default of Fisker Automotive, which drew $193 million from its conditional $529 million loan before going belly-up. A couple of conservative lawmakers spoke against resurrecting the program.

“At worst, the program threw good taxpayer money after bad,” said Representative Darrell Issa (R-California). “At best, it has risked Americans’ hard-earned money on projects that didn’t need it or didn’t truly advance vehicle technology. The program simply didn’t have the results needed to justify its revival.”

“From Solyndra to Fisker, taxpayers have already paid too much for President Obama’s risky green energy bets,” said South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune (failed solar-panel maker Solyndra received loan guarantees through a separate DOE program). “Now is not the time to revive defunct Department of Energy loan programs that have already wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

The fuss may be for naught, as an auto analyst suggested that there will be little demand for the loans these days. Private financing is available and inexpensive, and applicants would have to endure the scrutiny of lawmakers and government watchdogs, according to Alan Baum of Baum & Associates. “Is this money better than money you can obtain on the private side?” he asked. “I could see firms that are automotive suppliers that are trying to broaden their position in this marketplace.” Baum said that the Energy Department will probably seek recipients looking for supplements to their capital rather than a main funding source.


Source: Automotive News, Bloomberg

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