| WASHINGTON, April 2
WASHINGTON, April 2 The Obama administration
said on Wednesday it has revised its review process for advanced
vehicle loans, hoping to jump-start a stalled program that still
has more $16 billion in available funding.
The Department of Energy (DOE) sent a letter to the Motor
and Equipment Manufacturers Association on Wednesday to clarify
that a wide range of component makers would be eligible for
loans through the program, as well as outlining measures to
improve communication with applicants and speed up reviews.
"The U.S. auto industry has evolved since the (advanced
vehicle) program was established and today we are presented with
an opportunity to hit the accelerator on U.S. auto manufacturing
growth," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement.
Last year, U.S. lawmakers sought to expand the program,
which offers loans to support of the manufacturing of more
highly energy-efficient vehicles, to include component
manufacturers further down the supply chain as well as makers of
medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
That legislative effort has not moved ahead, but the DOE
stressed on Wednesday that many component technologies such as
advanced engines and electronics and fuel-efficient tires could
receive funding through the program.
After doling out more than $8 billion in loans to auto
companies between 2009 and 2011, companies such as Chrysler
Group LLC abandoned their DOE loan applications to pursue other
options. Some companies have complained the government's review
process was too slow and opaque.
To address these concerns, the DOE has updated their
description of the program to include more details about the
application process. It will also offer pre-application
consultations with potential applicants.
The DOE has launched a website for auto loan applications to
help speed up processing.
The success of Tesla Motors Inc, an auto start-up
that repaid its $465 million loan last year, has bolstered the
Critics, however, have focused on the failure of DOE-backed
Fisker Automotive, a maker of pricey plug-in hybrid sportscars.
The department promised the company a $529 million loan, but it
froze Fisker's credit line in mid-2011 as the company faced
Fisker's collapse and the high-profile failures of other
Department of Energy investments, such as solar panel maker
Solyndra, led the DOE to reform its funding programs and offer
more stringent conditions for loan recipients.
But the combination of tougher financial standards and
heightened political scrutiny seem to have stifled the auto loan
The DOE has stressed that most of its loans have been
successful and its losses have been far below the levels
budgeted by Congress when the programs were created.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by G Crosse)