Tesla pays back balance of DOE loan
Move gives Obama a green-energy win after several losses
WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Tesla Motors Inc. said it paid off the entire balance of its U.S. government loan given as part of a Department of Energy program to spur development of alternative energy vehicles.
"In addition to payments made in 2012 and Q1 2013, today's wire of almost half a billion dollars ($451.8M) repays the full loan facility with interest," Tesla said in a statement released after Wednesday's stock market close. "Following this payment, Tesla will be the only American car company to have fully repaid the government."
Tesla's statement prompted a protest from Chrysler, which paid back all its bailout loans to the U.S. and Canada in May 2011.
After the news, Tesla shares rose 6.4 percent to close at $92.85 a share. The stock price has skyrocketed 168 percent since it closed March 1 at $34.65 -- driven by the company's first quarterly profit and positive reviews of its Model S electric sports car.
"I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress and their staffs that worked hard to create the ATVM program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in the statement. "I hope we did you proud."
Today's payoff of the government loan gives President Barack Obama's green-energy strategy its biggest win after almost two years of failures that prompted regular outcries from many Republicans.
California-based Tesla paid off the loan nine years ahead of schedule, with taxpayers making at least $12 million on the original $465 million loan.
"When you're talking about cutting-edge clean energy technologies, not every investment will succeed -- but today's repayment is the latest indication that the Energy Department's portfolio of more than 30 loans is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a separate statement.
Tesla's payoff may quell critics who said Obama shouldn't have acted like a venture capitalist in picking green-energy companies to receive government loans and grants.
Republican lawmakers have held up the bad bets made on plug-in carmaker Fisker Automotive Inc., its battery supplier A123 Systems Inc. and solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC as examples of rewarding untested companies for political reasons.
"When they're picking all these losers, it's nice for them to have one where they can point to," U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who held a hearing last month on Fisker's loan, said Tuesday.
Jordan said he wants his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee panel to hold another hearing on Energy Department aid to electric-car companies and their suppliers.
Musk already signaled in a Twitter message on Monday that the company would "probably" repay the Energy Department loan as soon as Wednesday.
The $12 million taxpayers stand to make from the Tesla loan won't offset losses of as much as $217 million that U.S. taxpayers may sustain on loans to Fisker and closely held van-maker Vehicle Production Group LLC.
Both companies have stopped production, missed their first loan payments and are trying to sell their assets. The Energy Department recouped $26 million by seizing reserve accounts they had to set up to get their loans.
The three companies, though, borrowed only about $1 billion of the more than $8 billion given out under the alternative-energy vehicle program, which was created under President George W. Bush in 2007 and implemented by Obama in 2009.
The program's payoff depends less on the startup companies than on Ford Motor Co., which got $5.9 billion. Ford said in a May 1 U.S. regulatory filing that it has $5.5 billion outstanding on its loan and is making quarterly payments of $148 million. Its payment schedule goes through June 2022.
Nissan Motor Co., which doesn't file financial statements in the U.S., hasn't released details about its $1.4 billion loan repayment record or schedule. It got its money to develop the all-electric Leaf and the batteries that power it.
"Nissan is honoring its commitment to the loan it received through the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program," Travis Parman, a U.S.-based spokesman, said in an e-mail. "The company is fully compliant with the terms of the loan."
Musk chafed last year at being lumped with Fisker, whose founders he once battled in court over accusations of stolen designs.
Musk announced his company would speed up its loan payments shortly after it was mentioned on the 2012 presidential campaign trail. Last week, it disclosed an agreement with the Energy Department to fully repay the remaining $452.4 million balance from proceeds of a stock and debt offering.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, referred to Tesla, Solyndra and Fisker as "losers" before the November election they lost to Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
A123 filed for bankruptcy protection in October after supplying batteries to Fisker that caused some cars to shut down while driving. It got $133 million in U.S. assistance from another U.S. program.
Fisker, which received $193 million of its $529 million vehicle loan before being blocked from drawing down more, stopped making cars last year after the A123 supply disruption and recalls for its plug-in Karma.
Solyndra, which got a $535 million loan guarantee from a different Energy Department program, became the symbol of failure for critics of Obama's green-energy lending after filing for bankruptcy in 2011. Ener1 Inc., parent of a battery company that received a $118 million Energy Department grant, sought bankruptcy protection in January 2012.
"The failure of a few high-profile companies has overshadowed the results of a larger number of companies that are meeting their requirements and are solvent," said Alan Baum, an automotive analyst at Baum & Associates in suburban Detroit. "Of course, when non-payments occur, the companies move from low- to high-profile."
Automotive News staff and Reuters contributed to this report.
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