By Ben Geman - 04/24/13 08:55 PM EDT
“DOE seemingly cannot miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Issa said.
While Fisker is in trouble, Issa made clear that he’s most upset with the Energy Department over the potential loss of taxpayer dollars, not Fisker. Indeed Issa noted that “innovative cars have a history of failing.”
The comments are part of a wider hearing about Fisker that has featured sharp exchanges between Democrats and Republicans on the committee over Fisker and the wider DOE loan programs.
“I had hoped today’s hearing could be a substantive evaluation of the Department’s loan program, but I am concerned that Republicans continue to make the false and irresponsible claim that this program is nothing more than an effort by the Obama Administration to reward political cronies,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, who added there’s “no evidence” politics played a part in the loan.
He noted that the taxpayer support for Fisker is just a small portion of the wider Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, which has included $5.9 billion in loans for Ford ad over $1.4 billion for Nissan.
“Despite these successes, we are here today to discuss Fisker Automotive, which represents about 2 percent of the total ATVM portfolio,” Cummings said.
He noted the program was launched through a bipartisan 2007 energy bill. Mr. Fisker noted in his testimony that in 2008 he was encouraged to apply for an ATVM loan by a senior official in President Bush’s Energy Department.
The company applied for the loan in late 2008, he noted, and it was granted under the Obama administration.
But Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chairs the subcommittee that’s hosting the hearing, suggested improper political influence was at play in the Obama administration's 2009 decision to approve $529 million in loan funding for Fisker.
He said partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a major venture capital firm that has backed Fisker, “talked regularly” with people in the Obama Administration and the Energy Department’s loan office. John Doerr, a general partner at the company, is a prominent Obama donor, and Al Gore is also a partner in the company.
“Fisker never oriented itself towards market signals and consumer demand, its north star was the political winds of Washington,” Jordan said.
Mr. Fisker, in his testimony, said “I am not aware and do not believe that any improper political influence was used in connection with the loan application” or subsequent negotiations with the Energy Department.
Nicholas Whitcombe, a senior official with DOE’s loan programs office who testified Wednesday, said loan decisions are made on the merits.
Much of the DOE loan was for plans to produce a model called the Atlantic at a former GM plant in Delaware, but the project never got off the ground.
Other funding was for U.S.-based engineering and other work for the Karma model that was made in Finland, but that car, too, has faced major woes.
Production on the car stopped in mid-2012, an executive told the committee.
Its various problems have included a safety recall due to a battery problem and, later, the bankruptcy last October of battery supplier A123 Systems, noted Barny Koehler, a senior executive with Fisker.
The company is seeking new outside investment but may be forced to file for bankruptcy, said Koehler, a co-founder and currently the chief executive officer in Europe and the Middle East.
The DOE recently seized $21 million from Fisker.
This post was updated at 5:11 p.m.