WASHINGTON -- A bill to make fuel-efficient three-wheeled vehicles eligible for federal funding now available to automakers and their suppliers has passed Congress and is headed to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.
Obama is expected to sign the legislation, a White House spokeswoman said.
The bill, which would open Energy Department funds to companies such as Aptera Motors and Elio Motors, was passed by the Senate yesterday as part of the energy appropriations bill after being approved by the House.
“This is a huge win for scientific innovation and the environment,” said Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., a co-sponsor of the original bill. “We need more innovation and less regulation when it comes to promoting new ways to save energy while saving money at the pump.”
The legislation has been criticized by General Motors Co. The company has said the Energy Department's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program is intended for large automakers that make many cars and whose technology will help save large amounts of gasoline.
GM spokesman Greg Martin declined comment today. GM has applied for three Energy Department loans totaling $10 billion.
Aptera plans to begin mass production of its plug-in electric vehicle, called 2e, in the middle of next year. CEO Paul Wilbur has said the company wants to borrow $75 million from the Energy Department.
The Vista, Calif., company's electric vehicle will be able to go at least 100 miles on an electric charge, Wilbur has said.
Elio plans to start marketing a narrow, gasoline-powered three-wheeler by the spring of 2011. The Tempe, Ariz., company expects to start marketing an 83-mpg vehicle for under $7,500 by the spring of 2011, owner Paul Elio has said.
The legislation would overturn Energy Department rules that limit funding to any four-wheeled vehicle that meets certain emissions and fuel-economy requirements.
It would expand eligibility for the loan program to fully enclosed vehicles that are designed to carry at least two adults and that average at least 75 mpg.
The Energy Department also would have to reconsider applications filed last year that were rejected because the vehicles didn't qualify. The agency has awarded more than $8 billion of the advanced technology loans this year.
White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.