Critics of the current administration have pointed to the impending bankruptcy of Fisker Automotive and the recent suspension of operations at taxi maker Vehicle Production Group as examples of why the government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in it’s zeal to promote alternative energy. The DoE effort under which those two companies received financing is the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, ATVM. Putting aside political ideologies, contrary to the image given by the apparent failure of Fisker and VPG, the ATVM program actually has a pretty decent track record when it comes to picking winners and losers.
The U.S. government has managed to recover $21 million in cash from Fisker, funds that will go towards repaying the nearly $200 million its received from the government in the form of loans.
PrivCo, a private corporate intelligence firm, has published a 20+ page dossier on Fisker’s seemingly strong ability to fundraise for itself, while failing to do a good job of actually creating cars. With Fisker teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, the results are staggering; with just under 2000 units sold, Fisker burned through an estimated $1.3 billion in venture capital, taxpayer-funded loans and private investor funds.
Tesla announced plans to pay down their $465 million dollar Department of Energy loan in 5 years or less, as Tesla seeks to achieve profitability.
Viewers of last night’s Presidential debate may have caught Mitt Romney bad-mouthing Tesla and Fisker during his remarks. Meanwhile, Tesla’s new prospectus shows that they’re hardly out of the woods yet, financially speaking.
Tesla Motors has almost used up funds from a Department of Energy loan program – but the startup car maker also says that they’ll start paying back the money at the end of 2012.
Coda Automotive withdrew a Department of Energy loan application after two years of waiting. The $334 million loan was supposed to have gone towards establishing an assembly plant in Columbus, Ohio, but for now, production will continue in China.
When solar panel maker Solyndra went bankrupt last year, which cost the taxpayer $528 million in DOE loan guarantees, the end of the DOE loan program was quickly prognosticated. The loan program is still around, but new loans have for all intents and purposes dried up. Just a week after presumptive EV maker Bright Automotive called it quits and withdrew a DOE loan application, the program claims another victim. It is Carbon Motors, the Connersville, Ind. startup that wanted to sell fuel-efficient cop cars. (Read More…)
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Reasonable minds can disagree about the wisdom of the auto bailout, but according to analysis by the EPA and Department of Transportation (based on data from the Department of Energy and auto forecasters CSM), the Government’s rescue of GM and Chrysler may not have been the best idea (at least from a market perspective). According to data buried in the EPA/DOT proposed rule for 2017-2025 fuel economy standards [PDF here], Fiat-Chrysler is predicted to be the sick man of the auto industry by 2025, losing over half of its 2008 sales volume, while GM is expected to improve by only 3%, the second-worst projected performance (after Aston-Martin). In terms of percentages, even lowly Suzuki and Mitsubishi are projected to grow faster than The Mighty General. Ouch.
On the other hand, the proposed rule notes that data will be finalized before the final rule comes out. Besides, the agencies appropriately admit (in as many words) that projecting auto sales so far into the future is one hell of a crapshoot. Still, with the obvious exception of “Saab-Spyker” and with some skepticism about the projection’s optimism about overall market growth aside, these are not the craziest guesses I could imagine. Who knows what the future holds, but it certainly is a bit troubling that the government’s own data suggests the two automakers it bailed out may well have some of the weaker performances of the next 14 years. At least the Treasury could have sold off their remaining GM stock before this report was released…
Ever since the messy collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra just two years after it received over half a billion dollars in government loans, the political climate around all green energy loan programs has heated up considerably. As the White House opened an investigation of the Department of Energy’s entire loan portfolio, loan recipients and startup automakers Tesla and Fisker found themselves under attack. And why not? Fledging firms with unproven products in brutal, scale-driven industries are hardly safe bets, even in the best of times. And with the government drowning in deficits, who’s in a gambling mood?
What gets left out in the hue and cry is that Tesla and Fisker between them represent “only” about a billion dollars worth of DOE loans in a program that was supposed to be able to loan out $25b (the final tally could be closer to $18b). Dwarfing the half-billion-each investments in Fisker, Tesla, and Solyndra are projects that seem a lot less risky in contrast to the startups. Here, in Smyrna, TN, I got to see one of them being built.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives want to halve the balance of a U.S. government loan fund established to help the auto industry make more fuel efficient cars and trucks.
If plans to shift some $1.5 billion from the Energy Department advanced technology fund to disaster assistance are carried out, serious questions would be raised about Chrysler’s ability to fully capitalize on its bid for new financing.
That the DOE loan program is under attack comes as no surprise: it’s been savaged by both the GAO (twice) and the Center for Public Integrity for a lack of clear goals, weak oversight, misappropriation, and political patronage (more on the patronage bit here). And with the Solyndra DOE loan scandal blossoming, it’s no surprise to see ATVM going under the axe (although Rep Steny Hoyer is leading the Democrat pushback). What’s worrying about this development, however, is that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said that the DOE loan was “a crucial part” of negotiations over its recent Wall Street bailout loan refinancing. When GM quit the program earlier this year, Marchionne also said that
I have neither the arrogance nor the cash to show any disdain toward the DOE process.
Chrysler also cites its ability to secure the DOE loans as a major risk factor in its latest 10-Q SEC filing. And with only about $10.2b in cash and equivalents on hand at the end of June, there’s a chance that this attack on the ATVM loan program could deal a body blow to Chrysler’s finances. Here’s hoping Sergio has kept the runt of the bailed-out automaker litter from dependence on this apparently corrupt, and politically vulnerable loan program.
With the environment taking an ever-larger place in automotive advertising, it’s interesting to note that Fisker’s latest brochure puts green in its place: behind sexy. Of course these sultry images [via BusinessInsider] aren’t free from environmental overtones, featuring taglines like “designed to get you hot, not the planet,” but it’s clear that Fisker is more heavily relying on the most traditional tool in the advertising playbook. Why? For one thing, even though Fisker is delivering Karmas, the EPA has not yet certified its efficiency rating… so we don’t even know how environmentally friendly it is yet. For another the Karma’s main rival, Tesla’s forthcoming Model S, is pure electric and therefore more appealing to wealthy environmentalists. Finally, unlike environmental messaging, sex doesn’t remind people that Fisker was the beneficiary of over half a billion dollars in government loans. Plus, sex is still, well, sexy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
The Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program has come under fire from the Government Accountability Office before, and was the subject of a patronage investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News. And the bad news keeps piling up, with yet another nasty GAO report [PDF] taking the program to task for running up higher-than-expected lending costs due to “industry risks” and for failing to provide required technical oversight.
Back in November of 2009, when GM announced that it would repay its government loans, it didn’t take much investigation to realize that The General was simply shuffling government money from one pocket to the other and that true “payback” was still a ways off. The New York Times asked me to write an op-ed on the subject, and I took the opportunity to point out the reality of the situation and note
G.M.’s global interests are far too diverse for it to serve its taxpayer owners faithfully, and it can’t afford to subjugate its business prerogatives to the political needs of its major shareholder in the White House. So, unless Americans develop a sudden obsession with G.M.’s $40,000 Volt electric car just in time for an I.P.O., taxpayers will be stuck with tens of billions of dollars in losses.
Afterward, while our government contemplates its runaway deficit and getting rid of its 8 percent of Chrysler’s equity, perhaps we’ll get an admission that General Motors still owes the American people. Without one, the relationship between the public and the automaker, and the Obama administration as well, may never be the same.
And now that our government finds itself “contemplating a runaway deficit and getting rid of its 8 percent of Chrysler’s equity,” would you believe that a similar federal money-shuffle is under way? Believe it.