US: DOE could revive $25 billion auto loan program image

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said he Obama administration is still considering reviving the moribund $25 billion auto loan program, and may open funding also to auto suppliers.

Created by Congress in 2007, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program hasn’t made a new loan since March 2011 and came under scrutiny after two of five companies that received loans halted production. The auto loan program was created to spur the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The program awarded $8.4 billion in loans and Moniz said it has roughly the same amount remaining. He told reporters at the Washington Auto Show that the program could be opened to auto suppliers.

The program gave preference for low-cost government loans to established automakers to retool older plants to build advanced vehicles, but also allowed start-up automakers to take part.

Many auto suppliers applied for loans, only to see the Energy Department reject them all. The supplier industry remains skeptical. It’s not clear if smaller suppliers would be able to get funding.

In February, Vehicle Production Group LLC — a Michigan startup building wheelchair-accessible compressed natural gas vehicles that won $50 million in loans — stopped production. A recipient of $529 million, Fisker Automotive Inc., filed for bankruptcy.

Some loans have performed well: $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Co.; $1.4 billion to Nissan Motor Co.; $465 million to Tesla Motors, which repaid loans nine years early.