Washington — Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Wednesday the Obama administration is still considering reviving the moribund $25 billion auto loan program, and may open funding to auto suppliers.
Created by Congress in 2007, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program hasn’t made a new loan since March 2011 and came under scrutiny after two of five companies that received loans halted production. The auto loan program was created to spur the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The program awarded $8.4 billion in loans and Moniz said it has roughly the same amount remaining. He told reporters at the Washington Auto Show that the program could be opened to auto suppliers. “We are open to good ideas,” he said.
In August, he told The Detroit News the department was looking at reviving the program. He said the department hopes to make decisions soon on the future of the program and he isn’t ruling out seeking more loan applications from automakers.
The program gave preference for low-cost government loans to established automakers to retool older plants to build advanced vehicles, but also allowed start-up automakers to take part.
Moniz confirmed in August that the Energy Department — which had initially received more than 100 applications for loans in 2008 and 2009 — was not actively considering applications.
General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC abandoned loan requests after years of talks with the department.
Many auto suppliers applied for loans, only to see the Energy Department reject them all. The supplier industry remains skeptical. It’s not clear if smaller suppliers would be able to get funding.
“The supplier industry needs assurances that the program can be restructured in a way that will positively impact the supply base,” said Ann Wilson, vice president for government affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.
The program has struggled. In February, Vehicle Production Group LLC — a Michigan startup building wheelchair-accessible compressed natural gas vehicles that won $50 million in loans — stopped production.
A recipient of $529 million, Fisker Automotive Inc., filed for bankruptcy. Its Energy Department reserve was seized and about $300 million of the loan was rescinded.
Some loans have performed well: $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Co.; $1.4 billion to Nissan Motor Co.; $465 million to Tesla Motors, which repaid loans nine years early.