The Detroit News reports that the White House has ordered a review of the Department of Energy’s various loan programs in the wake of the Solyndra scandal, noting
White House Chief of Staff William Daley ordered an independent analysis on the state of the Department of Energy’s loan portfolio — including loans to solar, nuclear and auto companies.
“The president is committed to investing in clean energy because he understands that the jobs developing and manufacturing these technologies will either be created here or in other countries,” Daley said.
One of those programs is the so-called “Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing” loan program, which was nearly used to fund the Detroit bailout and has since come under fire from various quarters. Twice already the Government Accountability Office has questioned the ATVM loan program for its lax oversight, weak goals, lack of technical support, inconsistency in awarding loans and the undetermined impact of funded vehicles. And those internal issues could help explain why the Center For Public Integrity has accused the ATVM program of operating a patronage scheme, alleging that major Obama donor and Tesla board member Steve Westly personally benefitted from loans made to the company. And on the Fisker side of things, backer John Doerr of the VC firm KleinerPerkins is another major Obama donor, suggesting a pattern of politically-motivated loan awards to well-connected EV firms that carry high risks. With government intervention in the auto industry still a hot-button issue in the wake of the bailout, this scandal has huge implications for the legitimacy of America’s emerging “industrial policy.”
The Chevy Volt’s best news in ages broke yesterday when GreenCarReports, er, reported that the Fisker Karma had received EPA approval at 32 miles of EV range, and 20 MPG (combined) thereafter. Moreover, the MPGE (the “e” is for “equivalent”) rating of 52 on electric power is nearly half the Volt’s 94 MPGE rating, suggesting that the Karma is not the most efficient car even in EV mode. And, at nearly 5,600 lbs (per evo.co.uk), you don’t have to look far to find out why. But if you ask Fisker, the problem isn’t the car… the problem is those darn EPA numbers, which you should probably just ignore anyway. After all, nobody drives less efficiently than their car’s EPA numbers, right?
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…
With the economy desperately looking for signs that a bottom has been reached, news that Fisker has raised $115m in new funding might indicate that (if nothing else) the money markets are back to their good old speculative selves. At least it might if there weren’t so many darn extenuating circumstances. On the one hand, Fisker seems like the kind of business that has little business attracting much, well, business. Its $90k+ Karma brings little more to the table than some competition for Tesla in the EV-glamor-bauble segment, and like Tesla it’s trying to leverage its first model into ever cheaper, higher-volume vehicles. So why are VC firms giving Fisker the time of day?
Battery firm Ener1/EnerDel, which recently brought the EV firm Th!ink back from bankruptcy, has lost the battery contract for Fisker’s Karma luxury EV. According to Schaeffersresearch, Ener1 “decided it would be better pursuing higher-volume battery supply deals when larger automakers begin rolling out their versions of electric cars.” Says Ener1 CEO Charles Gassenheimer, “we have some capacity constraints on our side. We’re interested in high volume programs in the future.” The public story is that due to Ener1’s Th!nk tie-up, Fisker’s October sales roll-out was too much, too soon. The real story illustrates the complicated relationships emerging between EV firms and battery suppliers.
Former Tesla PR honcho Daryl Siry lays into the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan program (ATVML) at Wired’s Autopia blog, taking the $25b program to task for “stifling innovation.” At its core, his argument is a simple one:
Startup companies that enjoy DOE support, most notably Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, have an extraordinary advantage over potential competitors since they have secured access to capital on very cheap terms. The magnitude of this advantage puts the DOE in the role of kingmaker with the power to vault a small startup with no product on the market -– as is the case with Fisker — into a potential global player on the back of government financial support.
As a result, the vibrant and competitive market for ideas chasing venture capital that has been the engine of innovation for decades in the United States is being subordinated to the judgments and political inclinations of a government bureaucracy that has never before wielded such market power.
All of which sounds very TTAC… in fact, our lengthy Bailout Watch series began with a similar analysis of the ATVML program (albeit with a Detroit-focused twist). Unfortunately, Siry’s intentions in this case are questionable… as are his conclusions.
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- ToolGuy Well the faithful 2010 RAV4 has new headlamp assemblies installed as of yesterday (ordered them a year ago and put it off until now). Have to remove the entire front fascia *and* remove part of the radiator support to change the headlamps. Ordered new side brackets and clips since the thing is pretty much designed to go together once (it comes apart when it comes apart, is what I'm saying), so we'll get to hop back in there when those show up later this week. (Alternative is to have the wrong gap at the fascia/fender interface and you know we can't have that.)Just crossed 150K mileage, engine is strong, no signs of transmission trouble. Spouse is pushing for an EV (or a Jeep, but I ignore that Jeep part). Michelins are performing well. Very high likelihood that this particular Toyota will be replaced with a non-Toyota, maybe 2 years from now.Oh, no one cares. 🙂
- Parkave231 Needs moar grille!
- SCE to AUX Give them everything they want, including the moon. Let the UAW determine how long they want to keep their jobs.
- Arthur Dailey If I were a UAW leader I would focus more on political policy, such as requirements for North American content. Work harder at organizing non D3 auto plants. Try to win public support and increase union density/membership. But political unionism is not popular in the USA. Instead the focus is often on short term monetary gains.
- Peter 20% raise to make up for the post-Covid inflation. 3% a year for the length of this contract estimated future inflation.Nothing for retired workers (It’s not the Automakers fault that the Union has stolen your money. Go talk to the 2 guys sitting in Jail)