Tag archives for Department of Energy

DOE still has $16.6 billion left in ATVM loan program

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is questioning why Department of Energy (DOE) loan funds are not paying out as planned. The participation hurdle is high, and there’s about $16.6 billion in green vehicle loan appropriations going unused, the GAO found.

The funds come from DOE’s 2005 Loan Guarantee Program and its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program from 2007. These programs were a directive from Congress, but now House and Senate lawmakers on the powerful appropriations committee are hearing about the programs stalling out. The GAO report also told legislators that the DOE hasn’t “closed on a loan or loan guarantee or conditionally committed to do so under either program since September 2011.”

The GAO had interviewed applicants for the loan programs to evaluate the DOE’s performance and found that it the “costs of participating outweigh the benefits.” Those costs include a “lengthy and burdensome” application and review process and lots of documents needed to apply. The failure of the solar energy company Solyndra was also mentioned as making participants skittish about working with DOE and the Obama administration. It’s not just green car money that’s sitting unused. There is $34.8 billion left in various renewable energy project loans, but here, at least, there are 13 “active” applications.

The DOE might be finished issuing funds through the programs automotive. While the funds don’t have an expiration date, DOE says it will continue to receive applications and it doesn’t plan to use the remainder of the appropriated funds.

Ford, Nissan, Tesla and Fisker did receive ATVM program funds. Tesla is doing well enough to pay the loan off early but Fisker had its funding cut short and is not in a good position to pay it back any time soon.

By Jon LeSage

Envia Claims ‘Breakthrough’ in Lithium-Ion Battery Cost and Energy Density

Envia Systems, a battery maker based in California, announced on Monday what it called a “major breakthrough” in lithium-ion cell technology that would result in a significant increase in the energy density — and a sharp reduction in the cost — of lithium-ion battery packs. Envia is financed by the Energy Department and G.M. Ventures, the venture-capital arm of General Motors, as well as other investors.

Mr. Kapadia.Envia SystemsMr. Kapadia.

“We will be able to make smaller automotive packs that are also less heavy and much cheaper,” Atul Kapadia, chairman and chief executive of Envia, said in a telephone interview. “The cost of cells will be less than half — perhaps 45 percent — of cells today, and the energy density will be almost three times greater than conventional automotive cells.”

Mr. Kapadia continued: “What we have are not demonstrations, not experiments, but actual products. We could be in automotive production in a year and a half.”

Envia, which was founded in 2007 and has licensed some technology from Argonne National Laboratory, was awarded $4 million in late 2009 by the Energy Department’s ARPA-E program, which finances advanced energy research. As a founding principle, the program was designed “to develop lithium-ion batteries with the highest energy density in the world.”

The manganese-rich powder used in Envia's cathode.Envia SystemsThe manganese-rich powder used in Envia’s cathode.

The advances were credited to the company’s proprietary cathode, anode and electrolyte materials, including manganese for the cathode. G.M. Ventures, in announcing its $7 million investment in Envia last year, noted that the company’s materials would “store more energy per unit of mass than current cathode materials.” Because the cathode was a “key driver” in the cost of a pack, the venture firm said, “the more energy the cathode delivers, the lower the battery cost because fewer cells are needed.”

Envia’s announcement said that its packs would deliver cell energy of 400 watt-hours per kilogram at a cost of $150 per kilowatt-hour. Though it doesn’t disclose a cost breakdown, Tesla Motors rates the energy density of its Roadster’s pack at 121 watt-hours per kilogram. Envia said its energy-density performance was verified in testing of prototype cells at the Naval Service Warfare Center’s Crane evaluation division.

“If it’s true, it’s a huge breakthrough, because the main problem for battery cars has been cost,” David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit research group based in Michigan, said in a telephone interview. “Right now, the lithium-ion battery is about three times as expensive as it should be for reasonable commercialization. That kind of cost target is the holy grail, and once it’s achieved it’s game on.”


Musk vows to repay Tesla’s federal loans in five years, not ten

Tesla Model S - rear three-quarter view, black

Tesla Chief Elon Musk says his company will repay its US Department of Energy loans within five years, Automotive News reports. That’s way, way ahead of the 10-year deadline the electric-vehicle maker was originally given to pay back the $465-million loan it got from the feds.

Musk says better-than-expected results are responsible for cutting the planned payback time in half, something that had been talked about late last year. Earlier this month, Musk said the first-quarter of 2013 will be Tesla’s first profitable one. The company, which recently ramped up to its full production capacity of 400 Model S sedans a week, delivered about 2,400 of them during the fourth quarter, making it the fourth most-popular US plug-in car in that time frame.

Tesla will evidently speed up its repayment with no thanks to the The New York Times, which caused an uproar when it reported that the Model S’ single-charge range was far less than advertised. Musk disputed the report, which was then called into question by other publications and the Times’ own public editor. Musk estimated that the original article cut Tesla’s stock value by as much as $100 million and may have swayed “a few hundred” into canceling orders for their new electric car.

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By Danny King

XP Technology sues DOE over advanced vehicle loan rejection

The US Department of Energy has been sued in US court by a company that it denied a loan to in its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. San Francisco-based XP Technology is charging the DOE with “corruption and negligence” for the way it handled the approval for loan process.

XP Technology is looking for funding to develop its battery and hydrogen fuel-cell powered car that has body panels made from expanded foam. The compact car would weight around 1,500 pounds, less than half the weight of similarly sized electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf. It’s powered by small, removable cartridges that can be quickly swapped by owners or recharged at home. XP Technology has been granted several patents covering the technology inside the vehicle, but it’s yet to build the car.

This is the fourth time the company has been turned down for DOE loans through the ATVM program. Two of the loan applications were for $25 million and two were for $45 million; two other applications are still pending. The company says that it was previously given a $1 million grant from a previous DOE program to help develop a hydrogen storage system used in its vehicle.

So far, funds from the $25 billion ATVM program have only gone to Ford, Nissan, Tesla and Fisker. XP is alleging that other startup electric vehicle makers such as Bright Automotive and Aptera Motors had their application reviews intentionally stalled to force them out of business and protect favored players. Bright Automotive and Aptera Motors have both filed for bankruptcy. Published reports are also cited in the lawsuit criticizing other DOE loans including the now-bankrupt solar energy company Solyndra. XP is soliciting other companies to join it in the lawsuit. In 2009, when the first DOE loan was rejected, XP was looking for support from the public.

XP’s latest complaint was filed recently with the US Court of Federal Claims, and was denied. The company plans to have it re-filed through an attorney, and the suit will seek an injunction freezing all DOE loans programs until a new approval system has been established.

By Jon LeSage

Move over Audi, now Chrysler has a beef with Tesla’s claims

In the same week that Audi said “not so fast” to some claims from Tesla, Chrysler has responded to a new press release from the California-based EV-maker by saying “not exactly, Tesla.” The statement, released through the company’s blog, comes in response to Tesla claiming it was “the only American car company to have fully repaid the government.” Chrysler notes that it, too, recently paid back Uncle Sam from its 2008 bailout. Similar to Audi’s recent press release, which was eventually and mysteriously deleted from the German automaker’s site, Chrysler is both right and wrong in its statement.

Tesla specifically said that it had paid back the Department of Energy loans that many automakers received – including Fisker and VPG Autos – while Chrysler’s retort argues Tesla is “unmistakably incorrect” since it repaid the government in 2011 a full six years early. Technically, the statements from both automakers are correct, but Tesla’s startup loan originated from the DoE, while Chrysler’s loan came in bailout form from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Further, as The Detroit News notes, Chrysler’s loan still cost taxpayers well over a billion dollars after all was said and done – those negative assets tied to “old Chrysler” in the bankruptcy did not require repayment.

By Jeffrey N. Ross

Leaving Baggage On the Dock, a Flagship Departs From California

A Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.Paul Sakuma/Associated PressA Model S leaving the Tesla Motors factory floor on Friday.

FREMONT, Calif. — On a Friday filled with press conferences, roundtable discussions, production-line walk-throughs and chaperoned test drives, it was only at a concluding pep rally, held on the Tesla Motors factory floor here, that the mood became palpable. As executives for the electric-vehicle start-up handed keys to the first Model S sedans to retail customers, the sense of a victory, to some an improbable one, came across as loud and giddy as any celebration of a basketball championship.

Wearing cherry-red polo shirts, Tesla employees whooped, whistled and hollered as executives recalled the journey to Tesla’s first retail-ready, baked-from-scratch electric car, starting with a meeting in 2008 in which Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive of Tesla, presented “a laundry list of things that didn’t equal a sedan,” to his newly hired chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen.

It should seat seven people, have the best zero-to-60 time of any sedan on the road and be the “best-looking car in the world,” Mr. von Holzhausen recounted to the crowd.

By the rally’s conclusion, 10 vehicles had been released into the wild, most of them painted Signature Red. Mr. Musk and Steve Jurvetson, an early investor, received the first two earlier this month. Five cars were handed over to customers onstage on Friday. And two additional vehicles departed Tesla’s plant for delivery to buyers in Chicago. One Model S was to be taken just across the bay to Palo Alto.

Each car that rolled out of the factory — a former General Motors plant that had become a Toyota plant — had a glossy, 17-inch touchscreen control panel that resembled an enormous iPad. Fortunately, the screen has a night mode, which switches most of the bright whites to black, dimming the display enough to reduce the eye-magnet effect. In a move that may please Tesla’s Silicon Valley constituency but rile safety regulators, it is technically possible to use the built-in Internet browser while driving.

And the car manages to accommodate seven people, but just barely. The front seats are cushy but plenty supportive, and two passengers can sit comfortably in the second row (three adults, however, would be a squeeze). Two rear-facing child seats, which fold neatly into the floor, are tiny and cramped beneath the sloped roof.

Tesla recommends these seats for children up to age 10. Combined with increasingly stringent rules for child safety seating (California law, for example, requires children up to age 8 or a height of 4-foot-9 to ride in a booster seat), this suggests limited utility.

The sloping roof, designed to help minimize wind resistance, also hampered rearward visibility during a brief test drive on the roads and highways near the factory, leaving just a narrow slit of glass in which to view approaching traffic.

Nancy Pfund, a managing partner at D.B.L. Investors, an early Tesla backer and a former managing director for JPMorgan Chase, was one of the Model S customers presented with keys (electronic ones, of course) by Mr. Musk. On the sidelines of the event, she said the car would become her daily driver.

“I’ve been driving — keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t break down — an old Mercedes,” Ms. Pfund said. She plans to retire the 2000 Mercedes-Benz and use the Model S for errands and her commute: 14 miles across the bay to San Francisco, and south to Silicon Valley, “about 100 miles round-trip,” she said. “They do have two charging stations at my office, so they’re all excited to have me come in on Monday.”

Of course, as any Tesla employee would argue, the Model S is not intended for such narrow use. The versions that went out on Friday were built with the Signature Performance package, and priced from just under $100,000 after applicable tax credits. This package comes with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack, rated by the Environmental Protection Agency for up to 265 miles of driving on a full charge.

According to JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technology officer, the pack consists of more than 7,000 battery cells. Later this year, Tesla plans to begin offering versions of the Model S with smaller battery packs, including a 40 kilowatt-hour choice starting at $57,400 and a 60 kilowatt-hour pack starting at $67,400, excluding a maximum $7,500 federal tax credit.

Tesla’s executives expressed gratitude to the 2,300 buyers of the company’s first vehicle, the Roadster sports car — built on a chassis from Lotus — as well as to investors, the raucous crowd of employees and perhaps the most polemical honoree of all, the federal government, which provided Tesla with $465 million in loans through the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

“We hope to do really good by the Department of Energy, and show that the support was warranted, and there is a fundamental good that’s been achieved,” Mr. Musk said.

Gov. Jerry Brown made an unannounced appearance at the event. “California has its issues, but all of you are part of a state that is leading the country, if not the world, and this car is just another example of boldness,” he said.

“I certainly had nothing to do with this,” Mr. Brown added. “I love it when people spend their money and make great stuff.”

Under Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Brown’s predecessor, the state approved $28.8 million in tax breaks for Tesla in 2009 in an effort to keep the company in California.

“Hopefully these cars will keep coming,” Mr. Brown said. “By the millions!”

Tesla vehicles, he added, might even make their way into the state fleet, “as we get a little more money and the price comes down.”


Tesla Repays Government Loan Nine Years Early


As expected, Tesla has repaid its government loan nine years early, becoming the first American automaker to have paid back the government.

Originally awarded a loan by the Department of Energy in 2010, Tesla sent over $451.8 million today to repay the full loan with interest. The loan was originally granted as a milestone-based loan and as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Aims to Repay Government by Wednesday

The payment made used a portion of the approximately $1 billion raised in Tesla’s offering of common stock and convertible senior notes. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and co-founder, purchased $100 million of common equity.

“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,” Musk said. “I hope we did you proud.”

Discuss this story at Tesla-Forums.com

By Jason Siu

Tesla Aims to Repay Government by Wednesday


Elon Musk, Tesla’s ever enigmatic CEO, announced over Twitter that the company will likely repay its government debt by Wednesday, May 22. 

“Given govt loan repayment this week (prob Wed), Supercharger update will be next week. Work continuing independent of announcement,” Musk said through his Twitter account yesterday.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Offers $450M in Stocks, Musk Buys $100M Worth

A Tesla spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters that he was referring to repaying the Department of Energy loan.

Last week the company announced that it would use $452.4 million from a bond and stock offering to repay the loan in full with interest.

Discuss this story at Tesla-Forums.com

By Luke Vandezande