As Department of Energy relaunches loan program, we consider past successes and failures

Adam Morath
A tale of two loans.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been both commended and condemned for its $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program that launched in 2008 under the Bush administration, with initial funds awarded during President Obama's first term. Opponents of the loan program need only point to the failure of Fisker Automotive for a convenient example of what can go wrong. Supporters of the loans have a reliable retort in Tesla Motors.

Fisker hasn't produced a single Karma extended-range electric vehicle in over a year, has eliminated much of its workforce, and is reportedly receiving buyout offers worth only a small fraction of the automaker's outstanding debt to the U.S. government. The company's $529 million government loan was cancelled in 2012, with roughly $193 million of the loan distributed.

Tesla, on the other hand, has paid back its $465 million government loan ahead of schedule. The automaker's stock price is soaring as its all-electric Model S sedan rakes in awards and sales.

Bloomberg reports that the U.S. government has more than $15 billion of remaining funds to distribute, and they plan on using it. Spokesperson Aoife McCarthy told Bloomberg, "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."

If you read between the lines, that may sound like Uncle Sam pleading "take my money!" but the program hasn't exactly been frivolous with its funds to date. Since 2008, only five companies have received ATVM loans: Ford, Nissan, Tesla, Fisker and The Vehicle Production Group. Other hopefuls, such as Carbon Motors, have been forced to close shop after not receiving a much needed piece of the pie.

Here's a look at the successes and failures of the DOE ATVM loans to date.



[Photo: Tesla/Fisker]