The future of the American auto industry is getting off to a slow start.
The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology — electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers.
With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not yet flowing. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015.
“Politicians are breaking down the door asking why the money isn’t being sent out,” said Michael Carr, counsel to the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees the Energy Department.
It is a question that Lachlan W. Seward, director of the program, says he hears a lot these days. “We’re moving with a sense of urgency,” said Seward, who also oversaw the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Board from 1981-1984. “But at the same time we are trying to do this in a responsible way that reflects prudent credit policy and taxpayer protections.”
Energy Department staff members said they were still reading loan applications, dozens of which arrived on the filing deadline of Dec. 31. On top of that, $2 billion more is coming to the department from the $787 billion stimulus package. That money will be used to develop the advanced battery technology needed to power electric cars, batteries more durable, safer and cheaper than anything available today.