Feds Gambled More on Electric Cars in 6 Months Than Transit Gets All Year

Vice President Joe Biden will return to his home state of Delaware today to announce that California car company Fisker Automotive will reopen a shuttered General Motors plant to build a moderately priced plug-in hybrid that goes by the code name Project NINA.

popup.jpgThe Wilmington, Delaware, GM plant that Fisker plans to reopen. Photo: NYT

Fisker’s investment in the Delaware plant was made possible by a $528 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, which has offered $8.5 billion since June to producers of plug-in hybrids.

When that $8.5 billion is combined with the DoE’s $2.4 billion in stimulus grants to car battery producers, Bloomberg notes that the Obama administration’s total investment in low-emissions autos has topped $11 billion in six months — about $500 million more than the annual budget of the Federal Transit Administration.

The DoE loan to Fisker has attracted its share of media scrutiny, with the Wall Street Journal suggesting that former Vice President Al Gore’s backing helped the company win government support.

Henrik Fisker, CEO of his namesake company, responded that the loan was conditional and "will be repaid, with interest, to the American taxpayer," telling critics of the NINA cars’ $40,000 price tag that "any new technology is expensive."

Fisker also noted that this year’s $11 billion haul is just the beginning of Washington’s investment in hybrid electric cars — the market for which remains unproven. During the hectic days of last fall’s financial bailout, Michigan lawmakers secured enough funding to guarantee $25 billion in loans for makers of more fuel-efficient cars. (By way of comparison, the U.S. DOT estimates that the nation’s transit networks need $50 billion to get their equipment into a state of good repair.)

The loans to Fisker and Tesla, which got $465 million from the DoE in June, come from that $25 billion pot. And the government gave the hybrid automakers an undeniably good deal — interest rates as low as 5 percent, compared with up to 20 percent on the private market, and a repayment window of 25 years.

Will the government’s growing subsidies to automakers dissuade conservatives from claiming that transit is the nation’s only subsidized mode of transportation? The chances aren’t good.

  • Clutch J

    Air quality and mobility are two recognized criteria for evaluating transportation investments for which plug-in electric hybrids likely outperform transit on a per-dollar basis.

    Transit of course also offers placemaking and livability benefits, considersations that are dear to Streetsblog readers but not yet enshrined in statute or regulation.

  • Ian Turner

    Clutch,

    That is almost certainly the case with respect to today’s policitized and inefficient non-hybrid bus service, but it is emphatically not the case with respect to passenger rail.

    The big question here, though, is: If the government is investing in alternative transportation fuels, how come the state is taking all of the risk and none of the reward? If the business fails, the state loses out, but if the business takes off, the state just brakes even.

  • Ian Turner

    Also, let’s not forget that we’re funding these companies using debt, not extra money that we have lying around.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Columbus Sprawls Through Malls

|
Polaris Mall in suburban Columbus. Image: Xing Columbus Columbus, Ohio, believe it or not, is a retail Mecca. The town is home to the corporate headquarters of Limited Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. So it’s no surprise that malls figure prominently in the local economy. For decades they have […]

Less Than One Percent of Transpo Stimulus Money Paid Out So Far

|
The New York Times reports this morning that the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package has hit a few snags: Some states and cities are beginning to complain that the money has yet to reach them. Others have been slow to get their paperwork to Washington; Virginia has yet to send the Transportation Department […]

Killing the Myth of the “More Shovel-Ready” Road Stimulus

|
During debate over the White House’s $787 billion economic stimulus law, transit advocates watched as their projects were shortchanged and more "shovel-ready" road projects got the lion’s share of the transport pot — about $8.4 billion, compared with $26.5 billion for highways and bridges. Photo: DMI Blog But transit money is getting put to use […]

Dems Release Stimulus Draft: $30B for Highways, $10B for Transit

|
Via Greater Greater Washington, the Huffington Post is reporting that House Democrats have released a draft summary of an economic stimulus bill, and at first blush there’s little for green transportation advocates to cheer. $30 billion is slated for highways, $10 billion for transit — a marginal improvement over the longstanding 80/20 split in federal […]