2012 was a year of political football for American automakers new and old, with Republicans and Democrats punting GM, Tesla, and Fisker back-and-forth before the presidential election. It got so bad that President Obama put a temporary hold on the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing green loan program, but that hold has been lifted and applicants are encouraged to apply once again.
Though the program was on the chopping block as recently as July, it has been granted a second shot at life. Launched by President George W. Bush, the ATVM loan program was funded with $25 billion by Congress in the fall of 2008, though the program has mostly been linked to Obama. Of the available $25 billion, only about $8 billion has been loaned out so far; $5.9 billion went to Ford, $1.6 billion went to Nissan, Tesla Motors got $495 million, Fisker received $529 million (though they only drew down about $170 million), and $50 million went to the Vehicle Production Group.
The program was put on hold after questions arose regarding Fisker’s ability to deliver on its promises before the plug-in hybrid maker ceased production. Soon thereafter VPG also ran out of money and had to close shop, raising serious questions about the program, even though Tesla has repaid their loans back in full, while Ford and Nissan are paying theirs down (with a tidy profit for the Feds).
There are still $15 billion in the ATVM coffers to hand out, and the government is encouraging potential applicants to apply. While that doesn’t do companies that already went bankrupt waiting for government money any good, there are still plenty of startups out there that could desperately use a cash infusion to get them going.
Is this a good thing? Depends entirely on whom you ask. While Tesla was a homerun, Fisker was a bad loan from the get-go. If stricter safeguards are in place regarding who gets the money though, the ATVM program could go down as one of the more successful government schemes in recent history.