A number of alternative-vehicle startups have to be wondering about their lifeline.
The U.S. Department of Energy's loan program for advanced vehicle technology has pumped money into companies such as Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive. Other alt-fuel entrepreneurs have said that getting federal loan money is crucial if they are to get vehicles into production.
Mainstream automakers such as Ford Motor Co. -- which received the biggest loan so far, at $5.91 billion -- and Nissan North America are using loans to build greener vehicles. Presumably General Motors and Chrysler would like loans, too.
But between federal budget-cutting negotiations and presidential politics, the program has come under attack. One source familiar with program operations says that the sniping has slowed loan reviews, adding that some critics confuse the auto loans with aid to projects such as the ill-fated Solyndra solar energy company.
For now, the auto program is intact. Created during the George W. Bush administration under the Energy Independence Act with a $25 billion budget, the program has loaned $8.4 billion so far. Another loan for $730 million has gotten tentative approval.
DOE spokesman Bill Gibbons says the program "was created as a part of a bipartisan effort to scale up the production of energy-efficient vehicles in the United States." But currently it seems to serve as a target for potshots by Republican presidential contenders.
That could make things tough for startups waiting for a cash infusion.
"It's gotten very partisan," says the source familiar with the program. "For the little guys, it's going to be a little slower."